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House passes bill revising US code to clarify that women, LGBTQ individuals can be president

The U.S. Capitol is seen form the South Capitol St. on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.
Greg Nash
The U.S. Capitol is seen form the South Capitol St. on Tuesday, May 31, 2022.

The House passed a bill on Tuesday that seeks to revise federal law and clarify that women and LGBTQ Americans can be president of the United States.

The legislation, dubbed the 21st Century President Act, passed by voice vote. It also passed the House by voice vote in the last Congress.

The bill specifically takes issue with a portion of U.S. code that pertains to threats against presidents, former presidents and certain other individuals. As currently written, the statute defines “immediate family” as “the wife of a former President during his lifetime, the widow of a former President until her death or remarriage, and minor children of a former President until they reach sixteen years of age.”

But under the legislation that passed on Tuesday, that language would change to “the spouse of a former President during a former President’s lifetime, the surviving spouse of a former President until the surviving 10 spouse’s death or remarriage.”

While the U.S. has never had a female president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first woman to lead a major-party ticket in 2016.

The U.S. has also never had an LGBTQ president. In 2020, however, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a popular candidate in the Democratic primary, winning the coveted Iowa caucuses before dropping out of the race. Buttigieg is now serving as Transportation secretary.

The U.S. did break barriers last year when former Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) became the first female vice president and her husband, Doug Emhoff, became the first second gentleman of the United States.

During remarks on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said the language in the federal code “disregards the fact that a president may be female and the president’s spouse may not be,” adding that “this does not reflect the progress we’ve made in this country.”

“Although we still have a long way to go, both in equality and representation, our country’s government is growing closer to finally representing our nation’s brilliant diversity. Our laws must reflect the fact that a president and their spouse can be of any gender,” Cicilline said.

“That concept may have seemed impossible a few decades ago, but today it is thankfully a true and real possibility,” he went on to say.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a sponsor of the bill, said the change to the federal code “is long overdue.”

“Federal law hasn’t caught up to where progress in this country is, specifically when it comes to who a future president can be,” he said on the House floor.

“Without this change to the U.S. code, for example, the law that makes it a crime to threaten, kill, kidnap or inflict bodily harm upon the president or the president’s family would fail to include a future female or gay president and their potential spouse,” he added.

The congressman said the change is “critically important” because the U.S. could eventually see a female or gay president. He gave a shoutout to some of his colleagues.

“Some day there could be a President Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Tammy Baldwin or Pete Buttigieg or President Nikki Haley or Kristi Noem or Liz Cheney,” he said.

“The words in law matter. It is critically important that federal law recognizes that we could have a president who is not a man or even a straight man and that they and their families deserve equal protection under the law,” he added.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) expressed support for the measure, saying that “this change makes sense” and noting that both major parties have had women run for president.

Tags David Cicilline Kamala Harris Mark Pocan Pete Buttigieg
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