White House Invites Iowa Couple To Respect For Marriage Act Signing

Photo courtesy of C.J. Petersen

By Ty Rushing

December 13, 2022

C. J. Petersen described his experience at the White House on Tuesday as a “full circle” moment.

The Templeton, Iowa, resident and his husband, Luke, were in Washington, DC, to see President Joe Biden sign the Respect for Marriage Act today, a bipartisan bill that protected gay and interracial marriages.

“This law and the love it defends strike a blow against hate in all its forms,” Biden said during the ceremony. “And that’s why this law matters to every single American.”

C. J. noted Iowa was one of the first states to recognize gay marriage, but the state’s rightward swing in recent years coupled with increasing homophobic attacks have put a damper on that historical achievement, which is why Tuesday was so refreshing for him.

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“It was just a really emotional moment for us,” C.J. said. “I remember when Varnum v. Brien came down in Iowa—you know, legalizing marriage equality in Iowa—I was 19 and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I will never get married.’

“And now I am married and I was concerned about our marriage being protected. Some of those rights that we started to take for granted had to be protected.”

The Petersens were invited to the ceremony, which included a who’s who of politicians, entertainment figures, and some of the couples who sued to legalize gay marriage nationally, because of C.J.’s role as chairman of the Iowa Stonewall Democrats, the party’s LGBTQ caucus.

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Photo of Luke and C.J. Petersen with Sen. Cory Booker at the White House.

A self-described “dirt-road Democrat,” C.J. has also worked with the White House on rural issues and served as communications director for former Senate Candidate Mike Franken. A political junkie at heart, he also used Tuesday’s opportunity at the White House to take pictures with a number of elected officials, including Sens. Cory Booker, Kristen Sinema, Alex Padilla, and more.

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The Petersens were also seated closely to Grammy-award-winning singer Sam Smith, who also sang at the ceremony.

Singer Sam Smith performs before President Joe Biden arrives to speak during a bill signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The ceremony took place outdoors on the White House’s South Lawn and C.J. said the building itself was illuminated in rainbow colors. According to the AP, thousands were in attendance, including the Petersens and another Iowan, Adam Peters of Davenport.

“I was really proud as an American to be able to witness that history being made,” C.J. said. “Really feeling like my president has my back, it meant a lot.”


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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