On Thanksgiving, US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden called the owners of Club Q in Colorado Springs to offer their condolences after a shooter opened fire and killed five people.
The call itself reveals the dual nature of LGBT+ life in America. He has arrived after an unspeakable crime committed in what should be a safe haven. At the same time, for a president — let alone an 80-year-old white Catholic — to call and offer his condolences would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago. Then again, Biden’s record on LGBT+ rights from his stint from senator to vice president to president follows the journey of the Democratic Party as a whole of him.
In 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. He maintained his opposition to same-sex marriage when Barack Obama made him his running mate in 2008, likely because in 2004 Republicans had used same-sex marriage as a cudgel against Democrats. Plenty of states voted to ban it in campaign initiatives that year, and George W. Bush supported amending the Constitution to make marriage between a man and a woman only (note: his campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, later came out as gay).
But in 2012, Mr. Biden famously outwitted the president when he said Meet the press that he was “completely comfortable” with same-sex marriages. This forced Obama’s hand, and he passed it a few days later, just as he was preparing for re-election against Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor had tried and failed to block marriage equality after the state supreme court he had legalized it.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 with United States vs. Windsorand legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 with Obergefell vs. Hodges. Later, during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator John Cornyn was confronted Obergefell to the infamous case of 1896 Plessy versus Ferguson decision, which created the “separate but equal” doctrine that allows for racial segregation under state law.
Even more ominously, when the court announced its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and overturned Roe versus WadeJudge Clarence Thomas included a concurring opinion that the above two decisions should be reviewed, along with Lawrence versus Texaswhich nullified the anti-sodomy laws.
This prompted a vote in the House to codify same-sex marriage.
On the Senate side, a bipartisan fraternity of senators — including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the first two openly queer members of the House — negotiated the terms of the Respect for Marriage Act.
In another sign of how far the policy has come, Mr. Romney, now a Utah senator, voted to allow debate on the bill after protections for religious organizations were included (although he said he still supported the “traditional wedding”). On Wednesday of last week, the bill cleared a major procedural hurdle by 62 votes to 37.
This came after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Romney is a staunch supporter by all accounts, passed the legislation. Fellow Utah Senator Mike Lee objected, calling for a vote on an amendment he wrote out of concern on the protection of religious freedom. The whole hoax meant that the Senate didn’t vote until late in the evening, and 24 senators weren’t even in attendance for it.
All of this happened just days before the Colorado Springs massacre, which took place in a state whose governor, Jared Polis, is openly gay and married. The whole tragedy and the delay in the vote (not to mention the torrent of Conservative announcements of this last election cycle, which have fostered transgender fears) shows that, while public opinion has leaned far towards the LGBT+ rights, progress on public order remains slow.
In an example of this same dichotomy, I asked a row of Republican senators if they would attend a same-sex wedding. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama told me he attended one before voting against passing the bill on Wednesday.
“There’s another language to that,” he said. “They can go after foundations and churches if they don’t agree.”