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Biden signs historic bill protecting same-sex marriages

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U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law on Tuesday, marking the first time that same-sex and interracial marriages will be recognized under federal law.

"My fellow Americans, the road to this moment has been long," he said. "But those who believe in equality and justice: You never gave up."

Waving pride flag
Sophie Emeny/Unsplash
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Biden signed the bill on the White House's South Lawn before a cheering crowd of several dozen people. Before the signing, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke about the landmark legislation. Singers Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper also performed at the signing ceremony.

In his address, Biden called out Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was instrumental in the overturn of Roe v. Wade and who proposed reconsidering the Court's past rulings protecting same-sex relationships and same-sex marriages.

"It's one thing for the Supreme Court to rule on a case, but it's another thing entirely if elected representatives of the people take a vote on the floor of the United States Congress and say loudly and clearly: 'Love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice,'" Biden said.

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With the support of 12 Republican Senators, the bill passed the chamber on Nov. 29. The House passed the bill on Dec. 8, with 39 Republicans crossing the aisle to join Democrats.

While considered a historic moment for LGBTQ rights, the law has several provisions that enshrine some religious liberties. Here’s what the law entails:

  • It formally repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which federally defined marriage as between "one man, one woman."
  • States will be required to recognize marriage licenses from other states, including for same-sex and interracial couples.
  • It does not prohibit states from passing new discriminatory marriage laws or enforcing preexisting measures.
  • The religious liberty amendment allows nonprofits and organizations to not celebrate and, in some cases, not recognize a marriage that conflicts with their faith.
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Democrats scrambled to codify same sex and interracial marriage after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

While Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion noted that the court would only consider the abortion ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should reconsider other previous court rulings that had no legislative backing, such as Obegerfell v. Hodges, the ruling on same-sex marriages, and Loving v. Virginia, the ruling on interracial marriages.

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