When a determined effort for a just cause bears fruit there is a need to praise the ones who led the way forward.
That is the mood from the White House and across the country as Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin received sincere thanks and kind words as President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. Also meritorious of thanks were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Maine Senator Susan Collins. The majorities in each legislative chamber who gave their vote for passage were also part of the reason for the national uplift as the president added his name that concluded this law-making process.
It is not every bill signing in D.C. where those assembled get musical performances to highlight the significance of what was achieved by members of Congress. Tuesday those on the South Lawn were treated to musical performances by Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith. For those in the land who yearn for how Washington once worked when crafting legislation came the knowledge that the Marriage Act was passed with bipartisan support. No matter from what perspective one looked at the ceremony there was something to cheer about with sincerity.
While watching the event, it struck me again how much progress has been made in this nation for gay rights. While having been a Biden supporter since his short-lived and, yes, embarrassing presidential run in 1987, I readily admit to great displeasure with his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 90s. That political mistake from Biden made his signature of the Marriage Act even more meaningful, as it demonstrated how our society and the political culture have adapted to the requirement of including gay Americans fully into the laws of the land.
But as we know there are always reasons never to relent in that work of democracy.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated this summer in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that the same rationale the Court used to declare there was no right to abortion should also be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex consensual relations, and same-sex marriage. Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” all three decisions, saying it had a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents. Then, he said, after “overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions” protected the rights they established.
Senator Baldwin has been a continuous advocate and skilled tactician within the senate so to achieve desired results with legislation. That was noted at the White House when Biden praised Baldwin by name, saying the bipartisan vote “simply would not have happened without the leadership and persistence of a real hero.” Wisconsinites could not agree more.
Those who voted against the bill and tried to thwart progress in this nation concerning civil rights will face the judgment of historians. But first, they will undoubtedly, hear from gay relatives and members of their community.
Baldwin has always earned my admiration. To be openly authentic in living her life and proving that a gay person can achieve continuous statewide election victories means more to me, perhaps, after having grown up as a gay teenager in a rural part of the state. I know many legal steps have been taken over the years to better secure gay rights. But I never forget how it felt, when younger, to know there was no protection for two adults of the same sex who loved each other and only desired the same rights as others who were able to wed. Baldwin never relented from doing her job with empathy along with an understanding of where our nation must head.
There is deep gratitude for Senator Baldwin and the many others in Congress who know the work of democracy continues.