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How Joe Biden Helped Win Marriage Equality

How Joe Biden Helped Win Marriage Equality

Appearing at Freedom to Marry’s “going out of business” party Thursday night, Vice President Joe Biden pointed to the next step in the LGBT rights battle — eliminating job discrimination — and noted the role he played in winning marriage equality.

In 1987, as chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden was a major opponent of Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the retirement of Lewis Powell. Bork, a federal judge and former law professor, met resistance from Biden and other liberals because of his writings criticizing affirmative action, civil rights laws, and the concept of a constitutional right to privacy.

Biden told the crowd at the Freedom to Marry event in New York City that his opposition to Bork was motivated by having read a law school thesis by the group’s founder, Evan Wolfson. “In 1983 there was a Harvard student making the [case for] constitutional rights for gay marriage,” Biden said, according to Business Insider. “I’m going to quote directly, ‘Human rights radiates from the Constitution, shedding light on the central values of freedom and equality.’ That was the basis on which I took on Judge Bork.”

In succeeding years, some observers have criticized those who derailed Bork’s nomination, but the process led to a different jurist being named to the high court: Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which last month made marriage equality the law of the land. Kennedy also wrote the majority opinions in three other landmark pro-LGBT rulings: Romer v. Evans, 1996, invalidating an antigay Colorado law; Lawrence v. Texas, 2003, striking down antisodomy laws; and Windsor v. U.S., 2013, bringing federal government recognition to same-sex marriages. Kennedy has become the key swing vote on the court, on which four justices are reliably conservative and four others just as reliably liberal.

Also at the Thursday event, Biden touted antidiscrimination legislation as the next step in the effort to win full equality for LGBT people. “There are 32 states where you can be married in the morning and fired in the afternoon,” he said, according to The Daily Beast, referring to the patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws. The vice president, who came out for marriage equality just days before President Obama did in 2012, also called LGBT equality “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

Freedom to Marry, focused solely on marriage equality, will wind down its operations now that this battle has been won, hence the event, which was both a celebration and a farewell party. Besides Biden, several other public officials were scheduled to appear, including White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Carly Rae Jepsen and Lena Hall were set to entertain.
 

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