US President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law a bill granting federal protections to same-sex marriage, with a large crowd of guests gathered at the White House to celebrate the legislative milestone.
Biden—who as vice president took a public stand in favor of same-sex unions well before they became legal throughout the United States in a 2015 Supreme Court decision—touted the landmark law as a rights victory.
"America takes a vital step toward equality, for liberty and justice, not just for some, but for everyone," he said during the signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
After the US Supreme Court—now significantly more conservative—overturned longstanding abortion rights last June, lawmakers from the left and right came together to prevent any subsequent move to curb same-sex marriage rights.
The legislation's final adoption by Congress last week marked a rare show of bipartisanship in deeply divided Washington.
In celebration, Biden gathered with a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the White House grounds, along with advocates and plaintiffs in marriage equality cases across the country.
Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay US senator, said she was "overcome with joy" at the signing of the law, which she helped draft in Congress.
"Today, we are making history and making a difference for millions of Americans," she said in a statement.
"We are telling the millions of same-sex and interracial couples that we see them and we respect them."
The legislation, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday, "will give peace of mind to millions of LGBTQI+ and interracial couples who will finally be guaranteed the rights and protections to which they and their children are entitled."
Jean-Pierre herself made history as the first openly gay White House press secretary.
Hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples have married since the Supreme Court's 2015 decision legalizing the unions throughout the United States.
Public acceptance has grown dramatically in recent decades, with polls now showing a strong majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage.
But some conservatives and the religious right remain opposed.
The new legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, does not mandate states to legalize same-sex marriage but does require them to recognize a marriage so long as it was valid in the state where it was performed.
It repeals previous legislation defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and also protects interracial couples by requiring states to recognize legal marriages without regard to "sex, race, ethnicity or national origin."
In the House of Representatives, 39 Republicans joined a united Democratic majority in supporting the bill, while 169 Republicans voted against. It was previously adopted in the evenly split Senate by 61 votes to 36.
'Who do you love?'
Jean-Pierre said Monday that Biden believes "there is much more work to be done to protect LGBTQI+ individuals across the country."
She recalled that the 80-year-old Democrat was among the first American political leaders to publicly support same-sex unions at the highest levels of government.
Back in 2012, Biden caused a stir by candidly declaring his support for same-sex unions—when Barack Obama's White House was still looking for the best way to make the president's position official as he sought reelection to a second term.
Following his own presidential election in 2020, Biden tapped Pete Buttigieg to become his transport secretary—the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to a cabinet post.
And beyond the issue of marriage, the Biden administration has taken a strong stance in support of LGBTQ rights—notably towards the transgender community whose push for greater rights has become a political flashpoint in the country.
The administration has introduced gender-neutral passports—allowing people who identify neither as male nor female to select the gender "X"— and it lifted a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, introduced under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump. (AFP)