President Joe Biden raises a pen and reacts to applause after signing the Respect for Marriage Act, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.
Vermont state Rep. Taylor Small (D), the first openly transgender member of the legislature, got engaged to her partner of nearly four years, Carsen Russell, in Washington this week just moments after a historic measure protecting marriage equality was signed into law .
“We’re officially gay-gay!” Small wrote on a post with photos of the couple’s engagement session on the South Lawn of the White House. Behind them, the South Portico is lit up with the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ pride flag.
The Respect for Marriage Act signed by President Biden on December 13 repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between one man and one woman, and requires state recognition of same-sex and legal interracial marriages.
However, states are not required to individually legalize same-sex marriage, and constitutional amendments or statutes banning those unions remain on the books in more than 30 states, though none of them are enforceable under the protections established by the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. throughout the country.
In an interview with The Hill on Friday, Russell said he originally intended to propose to Small at the end of the month at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, after the couple first set eyes on a dive bar in the state capital, where Small was performing as her date. persona, Nikki Champagne. But he turned around when he and Small were invited to Washington to attend the signing ceremony of the Respect for Marriage Act.
“When you get a chance to propose at the White House, I feel like you kind of have to take advantage of that moment,” Russell said.
On the way to D.C. from Vermont, Small joked that the event would be a great place for Russell to propose, unaware that a rose gold diamond and deep purple amethyst engagement ring was hidden in her overnight partner’s bag.
“Oh wow, what a missed opportunity!” Russell slyly replied.
After crowding onto the South Lawn with roughly 2,000 other attendees to watch the Respect for Marriage Act being signed, Russell said he led Small to a spot with a clear view of the White House porch and asked a passerby to take their photo.
“The next thing I know, Carsen’s down on one knee and pulling out this ring box,” Small said. “I was shocked and also thought it was a joke at first because I didn’t believe he had a ring or could keep such a wonderful secret for so long.”
“I swear I couldn’t get my glove off fast enough for him to put the ring on,” she said. “It was everything I could have dreamed of and more.”
Small said she hopes her and Russell’s love story will inspire other LGBTQ people to both live as their authentic selves and “experience authentic joy.”
“Transport as it is currently portrayed in political rhetoric is perceived as a bad thing and as a negative aspect of one’s identity,” she said. “But I really see it as a gift and a privilege and an opportunity to connect honestly and authentically with others.”