Northampton couple has another brush with fame, this time as guests for State of the Union


Staff Writer

Published: 02-10-2023 5:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Only two months removed from their invitation to the White House, Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith found themselves once again on a train to Washington, D.C. this week, this time to serve as guests for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The couple were two of 25 guests to receive an invitation from first lady Jill Biden to sit with her to view the address in the Capitol building. The Northampton couple had previously spoken at the White House in December during Biden’s signing of the Respect For Marriage Act. The act is intended to safeguard gay marriage if the Supreme Court ever reverses Obergefell v. Hodges, which guarantees that same-sex couples across the country have the right to marry.

“As with any State of the Union, the president would be celebrating some of the things that he’s accomplished, and certainly the Respect For Marriage Act was a big accomplishment for him,” Heidi Nortonsmith said in an interview after her return home to Massachusetts.

After touring D.C. earlier in the day with their sons Avery and Quinn, the couple headed to the White House for a reception with hors d’oeuvres and chamber music along with the other guests, before being taken to the dining room and served a meal of chicken pot pie.

Other prominent guests invited by the first lady included Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; U2 singer Bono; and the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, whose beating death by Memphis police officers in January sparked nationwide protests.

But the guest Heidi Nortonsmith was most looking forward to meeting was Harry Miller, a former football player at Ohio State University who retired from the sport after battling with depression and anxiety, and who has since become an advocate for mental health.

“I lost a brother to suicide,” she said. “So it was really important to me to think of a young man prioritizing his mental health and being public and making that normal for people.”

Following the dinner, the guests were taken by police escort to Capitol Hill where they listened to the president give his State of the Union address. Amid talk of the war in Ukraine and the economy, Biden called for additional protections for LGBTQ Americans.

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“Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity,” Biden said. “Our strength is not just the example of our power, but the power of our example. Let’s remember the world is watching.”

The speech was a lively event, with Republican members of Congress sometimes heckling and interrupting the president. But the Nortonsmiths were at least partially grateful for the theatrics.

“I had a little trouble hearing, it is not set up super well for people up in the balcony to hear every word,” she said. “Sometimes I had to use context clues of who was rising to their feet and clapping and who was sitting with their arms folded to figure out what had just been said.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at