Standing with the President on the the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This morning President Obama made a powerful statement about his priorities for our nation when he signed his first piece of legislation into law. I was so proud and honored to stand with my colleagues beside the president as he put pen to paper, signed his name, and enacted the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Even before I got to the East Room of the White House, I felt a real electricity in the air. The hallways overflowed with old friends and colleagues, countless advocates and vocal champions who have spent years fighting to ensure women can get equal pay for equal work.

As we waited in line, Congressmen, Senators, and staffers alike snapped pictures and shared stories. And I thought, "I haven't been here in 8 years!" It was good to be back. Everywhere I looked I saw smiles. We shared in the excitement of finally getting somewhere. At last, this is what progress feels like.

When Lilly Ledbetter walked by with George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, I reached out -- maybe I leapt -- and hugged them both. We had all traveled so far to reach this point and, over the last few years, I have come to know Lilly personally as an inspiration and a true warrior for justice. When I finally let her go, there were half a dozen members of Congress and grassroots activists waiting to share their gratitude with Lilly too.

President Obama said it well, just before signing the bill: "Justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook. It's about how our laws affect the daily lives and daily realities of people: their ability to make a living, care for their families, achieve their goals."

That is why Lilly went to that Goodyear plant all those years, worked her heart out, and did her job well. It is why she fought for justice when she learned she had been discriminated against. And it is why, even though today's victory will not return the decades of fair pay she was denied, Lilly never backed down.

To honor Lilly and all the women on whose shoulders we stand today, we must continue to face gender discrimination head-on. Earlier this month, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act and I know the Senate will follow suit to begin eliminating the systemic discrimination women still face. Today, with Lilly Ledbetter at his side President Obama began that process in earnest.