President Joe Biden signed gay marriage legislation into law Tuesday before a crowd of thousands on the South Lawn of The White House, a backstop of sorts in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns same-sex unions in the future.
“This law and the love it defends strike a blow against hate in all its forms,” Biden said before signing the legislation. “And that’s why this law matters to every single American.”
Lawmakers from both parties attended the ceremony, as well as first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
Among the attendees were the owner of Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado where five people were killed in a shooting last month, and two survivors of the attack. The suspect has been charged with murder and hate crimes.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and singers Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper performed.
“For once, our families, mine and a lot of my friends – and people you know, sometimes your neighbors – we can rest easy tonight, because our families are validated,” Lauper said in the White House briefing room before the ceremony.
The new law is intended to safeguard gay marriages if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses Obergefell v. Hodges, its June 25, 2015 decision legalizing same-sex unions nationwide.
The new law, the Respect for Marrige Act, also protects interracial marriages. In 1967, the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia struck down laws in 16 states barring interracial marriage.
The signing marks the culmination of a months-long bipartisan effort sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion available across the country.
In a concurring opinion in the case that overturned Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas encouraged revisiting other decisions, including the legalization of same-sex marriage, generating fear that more civil rights could be under threat by the court’s conservative majority. Thomas did not include interracial marriage with other cases he said should be reconsidered. Thomas is in an interracial marriage.
If the Supreme Court would overturn same-sex marriages, the new law would take effect.
But some of the provisions are controversial.
Lawmakers made a compromise that was intended to satisfy conservative concerns about religious liberty, such as ensuring churches could still refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
Also, states will not be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But they will be required to recognize marriage licenses issued in other states..
The ceremony took place five days after the Respect for Marriage Act passed in the House of Representatives with 39 Republicans voting in favor.
The Senate passed the bill on Nov. 29 in a 61-39 vote, with 12 Republicans supporting it.