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Bill Clinton: It’s time to overturn DOMA

In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act. 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.

On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.

Because Section 3 of the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, same-sex couples who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples. Among other things, these couples cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees. Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws.

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.

We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.

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?’ ”

The answer is of course and always yes. In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

by Anonymousreply 1503/08/2013

I think it did prevent the passage of a Constitutional Amendment.

by Anonymousreply 103/07/2013

The reason he gives for signing it in the first place seems a bit fishy to me or is it just me..

I do like that he's come out now and says it should be overturned though.

by Anonymousreply 203/08/2013

Fishy? What he said is true. The political climate was not like it is now. Clinton was President, not dictator. It's the same reason Obama waited to make his marriage statement. It's not about what he actually believes, it's about what is political possible at a given time.

by Anonymousreply 303/08/2013

I can't believe what I'm reading.

by Anonymousreply 403/08/2013

I still can't believe how politically braindead people are. Clinton had to do it. Politics is like playing Chess. If it weren't for Clinton, we'd have a constitutional amendment, not to mention we would have been banned from the military. Perhaps people are willfully stupid. It always drove me up the wall when people would slam the Clintons over DOMA and DADT. They just don't get it.

by Anonymousreply 503/08/2013

Bill Clinton signing an Act defending marriage - does any more really need to be said on the gay side of this debate?

by Anonymousreply 603/08/2013

damn

by Anonymousreply 703/08/2013

Thanks for posting this, OP

by Anonymousreply 803/08/2013

I believe this is true. At the time, talk of a constitutional amendment was very real and we would NOT have the progress we've made thus far.

by Anonymousreply 903/08/2013

[quote]I think it did prevent the passage of a Constitutional Amendment.

A bill proposing amendment would have had to pass by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses, & then be ratified by three-fourths of the states within 7 years.

It was a threat, but hardly a foregone conclusion.

by Anonymousreply 1003/08/2013

I think you are being a little harsh towards Bill Clinton. His Presidency ended in 2001 and the world was a different place back then. Our own Obama only changed is "opinion" in the past year.

by Anonymousreply 1203/08/2013

Disagree, R10. Remember, Pubbies were the majority during Clinton's terms, and we had just come off the fabulous 80's with the Meese Commission and dead Jerry Falwell was riding high. There was serious talk of an Amendment.

As to three-fourths of the states... Well, lets work backward and list the states that definitely wouldn't have ratified such an amendment: ...

California? Prop 8 passed in 2008, so likely it would have ratified despite a spirited debate. New York? Marriage only passed in 2011, and the most liberal part of the state (NYC) had just gone through Guiliani's election, so another definite possibility. So, maybe Massachusetts and Vermont would have stood up. Maybe.

It's very easy to forget that the country has progressed extraordinarily fast on gay marriage. Maybe due to the Internet, activism, and the AIDS crisis, gays went from being literally incarcerable to mainstream in a generation. As frustrating as it is that we have to fight for basic rights, we are winning.

Politicians only keep their jobs by reading the political winds and doing what's possible for the times. I was mighty pissed at Bubba when DOMA and DADT passed, but even then I saw them as watered-down versions of what could have very easily been draconian and much, much worse. Even today, Obama's proposed "8 state" solution isn't what I'd prefer, but if we solidify our gains, it is only a matter of time before the rest of the states will have no choice under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

Afterall, it took more than 50 years to abolish slavery, from the banning of new importations in 1808 through passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

by Anonymousreply 1303/08/2013

As recently as 2004, he was urging Kerry to support all those state DOMA's to win the White House. To quote Jimmy Carter: "The Clintons ... there when they need you."

by Anonymousreply 1403/08/2013

So Bill is now a martyr because he had the foresight, though not communicated at the time, to know that DOMA would prevent an amendment to the constitution. Now that it is convenient for him, and not a first term president by the way, he announces this line of complete bullshit.

If this was a Republican president, you bitches would be spitting venom at him and comparing him to the anti-christ. You should be telling Mr. Clinton to shove it up his fucking ass. He is only saying this because he has not skin in the game right now. If DOMA doesn't get struck down now, I'm betting he won't be on this soap box in 2016.

by Anonymousreply 1503/08/2013
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