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Biden scores another bipartisan win with Respect for Marriage Act

For a White House eager to show progress on bipartisan breakthroughs, there’s a growing list of success stories — including the Respect for Marriage Act.


It seems like ages ago, but as recently as 2012, marriage equality was still quite controversial. In fact, most national Democratic leaders were still reluctant at the time to endorse equal marriage rights, regardless of sexual orientation.

With this in mind, then-Vice President Joe Biden surprised many in May 2012 when he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and spoke his mind. Asked about his personal perspective on same-sex marriage, the Delaware Democrat replied, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

This was not the official position of the Obama White House at the time. Indeed, the sitting president said, “Joe got a little ahead of his skis” on the issue.

Maybe so. But Biden’s unplanned announcement — in hindsight, a watershed moment — helped spark a new and progressive conversation in Democratic politics. It wasn’t long before the party dramatically overhauled its position on marriage equality, and now literally every Democratic officeholder at the federal level endorses same-sex marriage without hesitation.

It’s against this backdrop that Biden, a decade after changing the conversation, will sign the Respect for Marriage Act into law this afternoon. NBC News reported on today’s bill signing ceremony at the White House.

The president will emphasize bipartisan support for the legislation, passed by Congress last week, while calling for more to be done, including a renewed push for bill to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, a White House official told NBC News. Biden is also expected to quote directly from a 2012 interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” in which he came out in public support of same-sex marriage. His words will also be featured on a program for the event.

One of the many things about the progressive victory on the Respect for Marriage Act is the speed with which it came together. Indeed, as we recently discussed, the measure probably wouldn’t even have been written this year were it not for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The far-right jurist issued a concurring opinion six months ago, arguing that a 2015 ruling on marriage equality was “demonstrably erroneous” and should be “reconsidered.”

It came against a backdrop of Republican officials at multiple levels of government expressing overt opposition to same-sex marriage.

Soon after, Democrats, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, pushed the Respect for Marriage Act to help shield the status quo for same-sex and interracial couples. After some relatively straightforward negotiations, it passed both the House and the Senate with a fair amount of bipartisan support.

To reiterate a point from last week, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that the bill is not perfect, though it will achieve some key goals. As a recent NBC News report explained:

  • The bill requires the federal government to recognize valid marriages between two individuals.
  • It ensures full benefits for marriages “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
  • If the Supreme Court were to overturn the right to same-sex marriage and red states were to roll back the clock, Americans could go to other states and get married even if it’s not legal in their states.
  • It also repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which has been ruled unconstitutional, but is still on the books.

This was good enough to get unanimous support from congressional Democrats, along with 39 Republican votes in the House and 12 Republican votes in the Senate.

If it seems as if Biden has signed quite a few bipartisan bills since becoming president, it’s not your imagination. In August, for example, he signed the CHIPS and Science Act, including more than $52 billion for U.S. companies producing computer chips, which was one of the largest investments in American manufacturing and science in a generation.

A week earlier, there was bipartisan support for welcoming Sweden and Finland into NATO, and around the same time, there was bipartisan support for the PACT Act, which was a significant expansion of veterans benefits.

As we discussed at the time, that came on the heels of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — the first major legislation to address gun violence in nearly three decades — which, as the name implies, also passed with some bipartisan backing.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the list keeps going. In March, for example, both parties agreed on an important Postal Service Reform Act, which Biden was only too pleased to sign into law. Before that, a bill on forced arbitration was also a worthwhile breakthrough, as was the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. The parties also reached an agreement on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which was added to a larger spending package that passed.

What’s more, it was last fall when the president signed into law a significant, bipartisan infrastructure package.

What’s more, there’s reason for cautious optimism about reforming the Electoral Count Act, which also has bipartisan support.

For a White House eager to show that Biden and Democratic leaders can make meaningful progress on bipartisan measures that will make a difference, there’s a growing list of credible success stories.