President Biden on Tuesday signed legislation to safeguard marriage equality after Congress, for the first time in history, approved federal protections for same-sex marriage.
The Respect for Marriage Act passed the House on Thursday in a 258-169-1 vote, with 39 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the measure. The Senate cleared the measure last week in a 61-38 vote; 12 GOP senators joined on to the bill once it included an amendment outlining some protections for religious beliefs.
Biden has championed the legislation, with the White House describing the Respect for Marriage Act as “personal” to him. He signed the legislation at a celebratory event at the White House with more than 2,000 attendees.
“The road for the moment has been long, but those who believe in equality and justice, you never gave up,” Biden said. “Many of you standing on the South Lawn here. So many of you put your relationships on the line, your jobs on the line, your lives on the line to fight for the law I’m about to sign.”
Before the bill signing, there were musical performances from artists Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper, and Biden’s now infamous remarks from a “Meet the Press” appearance in 2012 played from a loudspeaker.
He later quoted himself from those remarks: “As I’ve said before, and some of you might remember on a certain TV show 10 years ago — I got in trouble — marriage, I mean this from the bottom of my heart, marriage is a simple proposition. Who do you love? And will you be loyal to that person you love? It’s not more complicated than that.”
“Deciding whether to marry, who to marry is one of the most profound decisions a person can make,” he added.
Same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
But the debate over gay marriage was resurrected this summer when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion for that ruling, he called on the court to also reconsider the precedent of Obergefell v. Hodges.
The new law enshrines federal protections for same-sex couples, requiring that the federal government and all states recognize any marriage that occurred in a state where the union was legal. It also cements protections for interracial couples.
And it repeals of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
But Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed on Tuesday for Congress to next pass the Equality Act, which aims to ensure federal protections against anti-LGBT discrimination.
“When a person can be married in the morning and thrown out of a restaurant for being gay in the afternoon, this is still wrong. Wrong,” Biden said.
“And that’s why the people you heard speak today continue to fight to pass the Equality Act. When hospitals, libraries and community centers are threatened and intimidated because they support LGBTQ children and families, we have to speak out. We must stop the hate and violence,” he said.
He also mentioned the shooting last month in Colorado Springs, Colo., when a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub.
Additionally, the president noted that Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act on the same day that Biden secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. Biden announced her release alongside her wife, Cherelle Griner.
“Brittney’s wife said, ‘Today, my family is whole.’ My fellow Americans, that all-consuming, life-altering love and commitment — that’s marriage,” Biden said.
The Respect for Marriage Act also includes an amendment outlining protections for religious liberties, which was a late addition central to securing enough Republican support for passage in the Senate.
Biden was at odds on the issue with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposed the measure, arguing it doesn’t include enough leeway for religious organizations. The fight between Biden and the bishops was reminiscent of some bishops’ attempts last year to try to deny him communion over his stance on abortion rights.
Other religious institutions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, supported the religious freedom protections in the bill.
Updated 5:02 p.m.