Washington: They came in their thousands to witness marriage equality finally being enshrined into US federal law.
The usually stoic outgoing House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, admitted she was overwhelmed with emotion, describing it as a “glorious moment of triumph for love, freedom and dignity for all”.
US President Joe Biden signs HR 8408, the Respect for Marriage Act, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.Credit:Bloomberg
The Democratic Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, reflected on the purple tie he was wearing – the same one he wore when his daughter Alison married her partner Elizabeth, which he described as “one of the happiest days of my life”.
And President Joe Biden acknowledged that while America had come a long way on the path to equality, there was more to be done, urging Congress to pass laws that would ban all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – not just in marriage, but also in employment, housing, education, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The day, however, was cause for celebration, as activists, advocates, and entertainers such as British pop star Sam Smith and 80s icon Cyndi Lauper gathered on the south lawn of the White House to witness the historic Respect For Marriage Act being signed into law.
Cyndi Lauper performs “True Colours” in front of thousands of marriage equality supporters on the White House lawn.Credit:AP
“Today is a good day,” a jubilant Biden declared, flanked by his wife Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
“A day America takes a vital step toward equality, toward liberty, justice — not just for some, but for everyone.”
The landmark act was passed with bipartisan support last week – almost five years to the day the Australian Parliament ushered in its own historic laws giving LGBTQ people the right to marry.
It will ensure that same-sex and interracial couples in America have the same legal protections as other married couples, officially voiding the Defence of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
US President Joe Biden, center, after signing H.R. 8408, the Respect for Marriage Act, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White HouseCredit:Bloomberg
While states will not be forced to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, the shift will require the federal government and all states to recognise same-sex and interracial marriages if they were legally performed in the past, or take place in the future in states where gay marriage is legal.
Importantly, it also gives couples security after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to an abortion earlier this year, resulting in conservative Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that the court should also re-examine cases that involved LGBTQ rights.
The signing ceremony represented an evolution for the 80-year-old Biden, whose views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion have become increasingly progressive over the years, while America itself developed growing ideological divisions.
Last month, five people were killed and 17 others injured during a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, renewing fears about the potential connection between weak gun laws and the current climate of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
On Thursday (AEDT) in Washington, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a special hearing on how the rise of extremism has fuelled political violence against the gay community.
Aparna Shrivastava, right, with her partner Shelby Teeter after President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.Credit:AP
Among those at the White House for the signing was 24-year-old activist Andrew Hartzler, the nephew of Republican congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, one of many conservative politicians who refused to support the bill.
She broke down in tears last week as she declared her opposition to the legislation, describing it as “misguided and dangerous”.
This prompted her nephew to speak out against her in a TikTok video that went viral, in which he declared: “despite coming out to my aunt this past February, I guess she’s still just as much as a homophobe”.
Speaking to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew Hartzler recounted his experience of coming out to his parents as a teenager and being forced to undertake gay conversion therapy in a bid to suppress his sexual identity.
This included attending a six-week conversion camp in Tennessee that sought to convince him he was straight, seeing a counsellor in Kansas every week for months, and falling into a “spiral of hate” as he was made to believe a part of him was broken and ought to be fixed.
“When you’re constantly told that the feelings of attraction you have are inherently wrong, you start to believe that you, as a person, are also inherently wrong,” he said.
“The harmful policies that my aunt is a proponent of have real consequences for people like me. So I felt like I had to say something because silence would have been complicit.”
He welcomed the Respect for Marriage Act as a step in the right direction, but called on politicians to do more, such as repeal religious exemptions for thousands of schools, colleges and universities that effectively allow gay people to be discriminated against.
“There are still really hurtful policies that harm transgender people and other members of the queer community – and that’s what we need to address,” he said.
Back at the White House, Biden agreed more needed to be done, and vowed that his administration would continue to take up the fight.
“When a person can be married in the morning, and then thrown out of a restaurant in the afternoon for being gay, this is still wrong,” Biden said. “When hospitals, libraries and community centres are threatened and intimidated because they support LGBTQ children and families, we have to speak out.”
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