Although that was only 17 years ago, it was a very different time. In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction. Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian. As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its passage “would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.” It was under these circumstances that DOMA came to my desk, opposed by only 81 of the 535 members of Congress.
Clinton notes that the much talked about Section 3 of DOMA, the one that has been overruled in numerous federal courts and will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 27, denies those legally married in states that now allow same-sex marriage more than 1,000 federal benefits. And, he says, DOMA is wrong and “the law itself is discriminatory. It should be overturned.”
Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path. We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’
When Clinton signed the bill defining marriage as between a man and a woman, he issued a statement outlining his reasons for doing so.
He wrote, “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages and this legislation is consistent with that position. The Act confirms the right of each state to determine its own policy with respect to same gender marriage and clarifies for purposes of federal law the operative meaning of the terms ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’.
In that same statement, he added, “I also want to make clear to all that the enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination, violence and intimidation for that reason, as well as others, violate the principle of equal protection under the law and have no place in American society.”
In 2011, Clinton came out in support of marriage equality in New York and urged a law be passed in favor of same-sex marriage after completely changing his position on gay marriage in 2009. He spoke of his “evolving” on the issue in an interview that year.
Clinton also signed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy into law that prohibited openly gay and lesbian military personnel from serving openly. President Barack Obama, who has also evolved on gay marriage to now support it, signed the law repealing DADT in 2010.