Bay Area reacts to bipartisan support for same-sex marriage 'Respect for Marriage Act' protections

Landmark legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage rights is expected to be signed by President Biden after the House joined the Senate in passing the Respect for Marriage Act with bipartisan support.

Thirty-nine Republicans joined House Democrats to pass the Respect for Marriage Act on Thursday.

"Not only are we on the right side of history, we're on the right side of the future, expanding freedom in America," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was joined by Republicans who joined Democrats in supporting the statute.

RELATED: Putin signs law expanding Russia's rules against LGBT 'propaganda'

"There are hundreds of federal laws that refer to married couples. This statute says for purposes of federal law, marriage includes that between same-sex couples," said Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Although same-sex marriages were made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2015 ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, there was renewed concern that the more conservative court could reverse that decision, after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested same-sex should be reconsidered in an opinion issued in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion rights case earlier in the year.

MORE COVERAGE: House passes bill protecting same-sex, interracial marriages, sends to Biden

"This statute makes clear that no matter what the Supreme Court does, marriage includes same-sex weddings," said Chemerinsky, "The bill was also changed to make clear that no religious entity has to perform a wedding that it doesn't want to perform."

"Only the most conservative Republicans opposed it. To me, what it shows is how much social attitudes have changed in a relatively short time," said Chemerinskly, "As recently as 2003, there was not any state in the country that recognized same-sex marriage."

"It means the world to me." George Smith, an Oakland resident who married his husband Don Hamilton in 2013 after being together for 23 years.

"I just couldn't imagine my life without him," said Smith, "Both sides of the House came together to protect my right to be married to the person I love. It was remarkable. I was just delighted."

The Respect for Marriage Act also included historic language to protect interracial marriages, which were made legal in a 1967 Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia decision but never protected by Congress until now.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Supreme Court justices spar in latest clash of religion and gay rights

"In 1948, there were 30 of the 48 states had laws against interracial marriage. It wasn't interracial, it was whites marrying people of color. So they didn't care if Blacks and Latinos and people of Asian descent married. It really was about protecting whiteness," said john a. powell, a UC Berkeley professor of Law, African American Studies, and Ethnic Studies who writes his name in lowercase. powell grew up in Detroit when interracial marriage was illegal.

"I remember one teacher actually talking about it, black and white, if you got together and had children, their children would have stripes. I mean it sounds ridiculous now, but he actually said that. That was our sex education for interracial dating," said powell.

He recounted one time at a school picnic, he was banned from riding home in a car with a friend who was a white female classmate.

"I couldn't get a ride home. The assumption was, what are you doing with this white girl? You're not allowed," said powell, "That got me kicked out of a ride, so I had to walk eight miles back to the school. We weren't even dating, we were just friends."

The respect for marriage act is a sign, he says, of how the nation can change within a lifetime.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or