Q&A: Local LGBTQ leader reflects on the Respect Marriage Act

President Biden signed the Law of Respect for Marriage in law on Tuesday. The law’s significance would protect same-sex marriages in the event the US Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision, which legalized gay marriage across the country. The new law also protects interracial marriages.

Ferdinand Lopezthe executive director of San Diego Pride, joined Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss what the bill’s passage means for LGBTQ Americans and for people in interracial marriages, who are also protected under the law. The conversation below has been edited for clarity.

This bill is a source of pride for the community, isn’t it?

Lopez: It’s a wonderful day of pride. This is decades of work by activists and ordinary people across the country for years and years, just asking for dignity and respect. Like you said, it’s also a sigh of relief, right? We know that our community is under attack, that we are under threat, that even Judge Clarence Thomas, in his plea earlier this year, called attention to the need to strike down same-sex marriage rights. So this codifies that protection into federal law: It’s a day of joy and a day of relief for our community.

The legislation is called respect of marriage Act. That, in itself, is progress, isn’t it?

Lopez: The name itself, right? We know that this will repeal the 1990 law, what was called DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Law, and now we are talking about respect. In the early 1990s, we were seeing that perhaps only 20% of the American public supported the LGBTQ community. And now we’re talking about 80% of the American public supporting equal protection for LGBTQ Americans across the country. So, we’ve made great progress.

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I think the fact that this is marriage, the fact that this is about love, is important because our community has been so discriminated against and demonized that we were told we didn’t even have the human capacity to love. So today, that codifies that recognition of the humanization of our community into current federal law, which is so important as our community fights against so many acts of violence across the country. So today is about love.

She also has extensive experience working for marriage equality; tell us about it.

Lopez: In fact, I started this job with marriage equality. This year would have been my 21st wedding anniversary. In fact, it was 20 years ago, almost this month, that my then-husband, at the time, before it was legal, went to the emergency room, and I was not allowed in his room because our marriage was not legal. He wasn’t allowed to be on my health insurance, and I couldn’t be in that hospital room. I was not allowed to make medical decisions. People often forget that the 412 state rights, 1138 federal rights, privileges, and the protections and responsibilities that come with marriage are so new.

It’s been an incredible journey to be a part of this for the past 20+ years of my life. So after that ER incident with my husband, I knew I had to do more. We knew we had to do more. I became involved as a volunteer with our local chapter of Marriage Equality USA, and would go on to become regional director of Equality California, state director and then national director of Marriage Equality USA, and worked on Prop 8 along with Cara Dessert, our CEO at the center LGBTQ community. It has been a long battle. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m glad I was a small part of that job.

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Ten years ago, then-Vice President Biden’s statement of support for same-sex marriage in an interview that aired on “Meet The Press” was met with surprise and even considered somewhat controversial at the time. Today, he makes it law. What do you think about that?

Lopez: I think that’s change, that’s progress, and that’s absolutely what our community is fighting for. If we’re fighting for change, we have to believe that systems and people can change and at a time when our community or this country actually can seem so politically polarized, so divided, the fact that this has bipartisan support shows that equal protection under the law for all Americans is a nonpartisan issue. Here in San Diego, in fact, we had Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders at the forefront of that fight for marriage equality.

This new law also protects interracial marriage. What is the meaning of that connection?

Lopez: If you look throughout the history of marriage equality, you really see a deep interconnection between women’s rights, voting rights, interracial marriage rights, and then the path to LGBTQ marriage equality. The first case was in 1937 here in California, Perez v. Sharp, who helped allow interracial marriage in the state of California. And it wasn’t until 30 years later, in 1967, when Loving v. Virginia allowed federal marriage for interracial couples.

My parents were disowned by their parents because they married outside of their race, ethnicity, and religion, so it has deep meaning for me to know that the work for women’s rights, for racial equality, has led directly to women’s rights. for LGBTQ equality. and justice cannot be underestimated.

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The last time you were on the show, the topic was violence against the LGBTQ community. Has that improved? Has it gotten worse? And what is your hope right now for the community?

Lopez: Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security just released an update that showed an ongoing domestic terrorist threat to three specific communities, which were the immigrant communities, the Jewish community, and the LGBTQ community, who personally connected with all three of my identities. In this time, we have seen an increase in violence towards our community. There are at least 124 drag events in this country that we know of that have been attacked. There have been several Pride events that have been attacked this year, so we know our community is under threat.

Moments like this where we can celebrate, love, humanize our community, and again show that there is so much more that connects our community, our country, with love, hope, freedom, and justice. The more we humanize our community, hopefully we can push back that violence and show that we are going nowhere and that our country and our community stand with us.