Marsha Aizumi and Barney Cheng were on the South Lawn of the White House to witness the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act on Dec. 13.

By MARSHA AIZUMI

On Dec. 13, 2022, I stood on the South Lawn of the White House and celebrated with thousands of others President Biden’s signing of the Respect for Marriage Act. It was an emotional afternoon for me as I listened to so many people sharing their thoughts.

I love how Sen. Chuck Schumer was wearing the tie he wore to his daughter’s wedding to her wife. And now his daughter and daughter-in-law will be making him a grandfather in the spring. He was beaming with pride. 

I felt the love and respect that the crowd had for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and how she was instrumental in the passage of RMA through the House for the second time. 

Sen. Diane Feinstein was applauded for introducing the bill so many years ago and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, an out lesbian, was called a hero in helping it pass in 2022. 

All those things were such an important part of the ceremony — the personal stories, the perseverance, the courage and the hope that the world would be safer not only for LGBTQ+ individuals, but also interracial marriages.

There are some people that feel that the law does not go far enough and I would agree.  It is a positive step in the right direction, but we need to pass the Equality Act to give wider protections to the LGBTQ+ community at work, for housing, public accommodations, education and other areas. I hope the Respect for Marriage Act will be the first step and the Equality Act will be the next step.

But in this moment, this is a victory for marriage equality. And when I turned away from the podium and the speeches, what really touched me was the emotion I saw on the faces and spontaneity of everyday individuals. 

I saw a gay man with his arm around his partner. I stood next to a group of lesbian women probably in their 70s who were hugging each other and dancing with sheer joy. I saw same-sex couples kissing and jumping with delight, without being afraid that they would be judged or attacked for this simple expression of love and happiness. It was a very moving day. 

When I received my invitation to the White House, it said I could bring one guest. My first thought was to invite my transgender son, Aiden, but he had some deadlines that he could not miss. Then I asked my husband, but he declined. So I thought this was about the LGBTQ+ community, so I decided to invite a gay man who is a special friend, Barney Cheng. 

Thousands were in attendance to celebrate President Biden’s signing of the Respect for Marriage Act.

He was so excited. I knew he was the perfect plus-one for me. Barney is a filmmaker and he was the person who created our short documentary called “A Love Letter.” It is in English with Japanese subtitles and you can see it on YouTube if you search “A Love Letter” by Barney Cheng.

When I asked Barney what he will remember, some of his highlights were similar to mine, but he also pointed out that he was struck by the evolution of President Biden thinking that marriage is between a man and a woman to believing “Marriage is a simple proposition: Who do you love, and will you be loyal to that person you love? … It’s not more complicated than that. We all recognize that everyone should have the right to answer those questions for themselves …”

Barney’s thoughts reminded me that as a parent, my thinking has evolved as well. My thoughts about being LGBTQ+ that I carried before Aiden came out have dramatically changed, along with my thoughts about marrying someone who is not Japanese. I married Japanese because that was who my parents wanted me to marry. But Aiden married a wonderful person who is not Japanese and Stefen is in a committed relationship with someone who is Vietnamese. Both of my sons should have the right to choose who they love.

Another part of the celebration that really stood out to both Barney and me was the leader of the military band that played throughout the ceremony. I do not know whether the band leader was from the LGBTQ+ community or not. All I saw and felt was his joy in being part of this day and his passion for leading his band.

And I think that is another reflection that came to my consciousness. It doesn’t matter if you are LGBTQ+ or straight. I would hope that everyone can be recognized for the contributions that they make, as well as the person that they choose to love. If every LGBTQ+ individual or straight person could live their lives not being judged, but finding what moves them, brings excitement and fulfillment into their life, I think the world would be a more loving and peaceful place. 

A society based on fear, judgment, disrespect, hatred and lies does not create that kind of world, but a world of truth, acceptance, dignity, love and hope can.

After the president signed the bill into law, the song that swelled up as the crowd cheered, hugged, cried and celebrated was “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. What I loved about that ending was this — we have a choice on who we love and who we will be loyal to, but we do not have a choice on who we are.  A gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex individual is born this way.

However, they do have a choice whether they are going to live authentically or not. Part of that choice will depend on whether they feel safe living openly as their true self. Will they lose their family, their work, their church or their friends or will they be embraced and accepted for all of who they are? So we need to choose if we are going to make this world safer for our LGBTQ+ friends and family or are we not. 

I believe our Nikkei community is evolving and we are leading with love …

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Marsha Aizumi is an author, educator, and LGBTQ+ activist. She co-founded the first PFLAG chapter for Asian Pacific Islanders and co-wrote “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son, and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance” (2nd edition, 2021) with her son, Aiden.  Marsha is also founder of Okaeri:  A Nikkei LGBTQ+ Community.

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