Bill Clinton Calls For SCOTUS To Strike Down DOMA. Too Good Or Too Late?

bill clintonFormer President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law more than 15 years ago, has endorsed its repeal in a Washington Post op-ed.

In his commentary, Clinton offered a measured apology for signing the odious measure into law and declared it to be “incompatible with our Constitution.”

A politician to the end, Clinton first tried to explain the times he was operating in:

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.

Eventually, though Bill does get to the heart of the matter, and takes some responsibility for the act that has denied same-sex couples their equality.

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.

What is the value of President Clinton’s endorsement—is it a piece of persuasive rhetoric or an attempt at repairing his track record with the LGBT community? Why did he pen an opinion piece rather than fie an amicus brief like so many others? And why wait until two weeks before the Court will hear arguments for and against DOMA?

We’ll feel your pain if you leave a comment below!


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  • Andreusz

    He has a JD degree from Yale, but didn’t know that the act was discriminatory. But then again, he didn’t know that oral sex is sex.

  • Dot Beech

    Clinton’s statement is entirely true. At the time DOMA was signed, there was a genuine move afoot to amend the U.S. Constitution to explicitly exclude all rights for gay people. DOMA stopped it. We are all much better off today because the Constitution was not amended at that time.

    Can any gay person believe that the gerrymandered legislatures of 2/3’s of the states would currently vote to amend the Constitution again to restore those rights? And, of course, such an amendment would first have to be approved by the current dysfunctional Congress.

    DOMA left open the possibility for grass roots cultural and political change. It was by far the better choice for gay people, given the political reality of its time.

  • Dionte

    Thank you Mr. Clinton.

  • andy_d

    Like you never heard of a “Pocket Veto?” Too little, too late, Mr. Clinton. DOMA is ONE reason why I voted against him in the primaries.

  • viveutvivas

    What an a-hole. Too little too late. He was in his second term and could have vetoed this act with minimal political consequences since he didn’t have to worry about reëlection. He even had the excuse of unconstitutionality.

  • Chad Hunt

    I am actually going to defend the action as well. DOMA is a much easier repeal than if we would have had a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. It takes 3/4 of all states to ratify an amendment. In 1996 it was very much a possibility to pass such a Constitutional Amendment. Even were he to veto a bill with President Clinton leaving Office in 2000 and Bush coming into office had he not have signed Doma we very well may have had the Constitutional Amendment ban. Then we would need another Amendment ratified by 3/4 of the states to repeal. I’m not even sure today we have a 3/4 states majority to repeal such an Amendment had it passed.

    There is truth in the old saying, “Sometimes you need to take 1 step back in order to take 2 steps forward”.

  • loushka11

    @viveutvivas: If Clinton had repealed DOMA in his second term the Bushies would have gotten their precious Constitutional ammendment for sure. You have a pretty short memory if you don’t recall that that the house voted down the FMA in Bush’s second term in large part because Bush himself would not even support it saying it was unnecessary because of DOMA. That was in 2006.

  • miagoodguy

    I find it hilarious gay people bend over backwards and into pretzels to defend President Clinton’s actions on DOMA AND DADT. Hypocrisy much?

  • loushka11

    @loushka11: Sorry, I was wrong – Bush did support it but it still got voted down because of DOMA. That much I do remember.

  • Chad Hunt

    @miagoodguy: I don’t see anyone bending over backwards here. I see people with a higher understanding of how politics works explaining to low-information extremists how change happens in this country. DADT was certainly better than the previous ban on gays and by signing DOMA to prevent a marriage ban Constitutional Amendment President Clinton paved the way for todays day and age to repeal DADT with an Openness Policy and made it easy for states to initiate domestic partnerships, civil unions, and now finally marriage equality by state instead of having to get 3/4 of the states to agree to a repeal.

  • Aidan8

    @viveutvivas: In my opinion, there’s plenty to criticize Clinton about, including DOMA. Yet… it was 17 years ago AND he can be an ally now. If we say “f*ck you” and “too little too late” to him, how does that serve us now? I say thank you to him for stating his evolved position and being an advocate. We need to pick our battles wisely.

  • chrishobson

    “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instituted because Clinton DID live up to his campaign promise of having his first executive order being doing away with the discrimination in the military. Immediately there was an outcry. Sam Nunn and Colin Powell told him they would pass legislation overriding his order unless he compromised. And they had the votes! So “Don’t Ask” was the compromise to let gay men and women serve. It’s not what Clinton wanted or tried to do. As far as DOMA, there was a large movement for a constitutional amendment to prohibit gays from marrying. Many commentators at the time thought it could sail through, and if you understand that process, you know reversing it would have been overwhelmingly difficult. The Supreme Court could not have overturned it because it would have become part of the Constitution. DOMA was an attempt to shortcut this, and it did. If you believe for one second the man who appointed the first openly gay US Ambassador, James Hormel, the man who appointed the first openly gay undersecretary of HUD, Roberta Achtenberg, who had a gay laison in the White House was anti gay… are sorely ill informed. Were DOMA and DADT grave disappointments? Certainly. But we deal with the world we are currently in, and those were very different times.

  • EvonCook

    Clinton was the great compromiser, a democrat who went along with the fascist bigoted repubs. Look at all the “fair trade” agreements, the Glass-Steagall act’s repeal(!) and frankly, it is hard and hurtful to accept these hindsight excuses –true as they might be. I do agree it would have been nice if he actually filed a legal comment with the Court on this case instead of the Op-Ed piece. It is important to remember, the President can lead, teach and act from the bully pulpit –was it not Truman who, with the stroke of a pen, chose to include blacks into the military while Clinton listened to the hateful Colin Powell (whose equally insidious son went on to screw us as FCC head) who could not and would not equate discrimination against his skin color with that against sexual diversity. Wish Obama would fight even harder and louder, especially about financial matters (banks too big to fail or jail), entitlements (which ARE NOT the cause of financial problems- see Time magazine’s expo on medical care)), voting reform (why isn’t this a federal issue?), much greater regulations to dispel the myth of the “free market” and make capitalism work for ALL the people, raise the minimum wage to at least comparable to the Clinton era ($11-$12), end ALL deductions and support a progressive, flat tax on ALL earnings (individual and corporate) as well as a tax on all transactions (real estate, stock, etc. etc.). Or is Clinton cleaning and clearing the path for Hillary someone who probably would be better than he was. But my vote goes to Elizabeth Warren!

  • wrww

    I was alive and politically active then–I remember well enough. There is no reason to retroactively pretend that Clinton signed DOMA all because he was purposely protecting gays against a constitutional amendment and it was part of some brilliant, long, pro-gay rights strategy on his part. He was protecting his re-election. It’s that easy. And it sucks, but that’s what they did to him. He was in the middle of running for re-election. Some people will not agree, but his political calculus at the time told him that he could not be openly pro-gay rights in 1996 and win. Even in 2008, no Presidential candidate favored marriage equality, not Hillary and not Obama;
    Successful politicians generally do not die on the hills of their personal beliefs; they play to win. Not signing DOMA at that moment in time would have cost Clinton dearly. IMHO, that’s what he needs to say. Not “I was really trying to help gay people with a tricky brilliant plan”, but “I was forced into it and I did it so I could win re-election and I’M SORRY and I’m glad we can change it now.”

  • viveutvivas

    It is completely disingenuous to defend Clinton for hypothetically averting a constitutional amendment by signing DOMA. There was never any serious possibility that a constitutional amendment on this issue would ever pass.

    Clinton was and remains the Great Disappointment. He achieved very little of lasting value and squandered all his political capital on useless “triangulations” because his mommy didn’t love him enough. Any serious progressive should spit on his wasted legacy.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    @viveutvivas: I’m not sure where you got your information but the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law on September 21, 1996. Clinton didn’t begin his second term until January 1997. So if he had vetoed the law it would have been in his first term, not his second.

  • Chad Hunt

    @viveutvivas: I suggest you rethink that stance. There are 32 States which do one of the following: Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, and any marriage-like contract between unmarried persons, Constitutional amendment bans same-sex marriage and civil unions, Constitutional amendment bans same-sex marriage, Constitutional amendment grants legislature authority to ban same sex marriage. That is today. All that is needed is a 3/4 majority so if 40 out of 50 states were to ratify an Amendment it would override a presidential veto. In 1996 when Doma was enacted states were even more conservative then they are today. It was a real threat and possibility at the time cleverly diverted by DOMA to negate the need for a Constitutional Amendment.

  • Brian

    Bill Clinton is a pig who signed the Defense Of Marriage Act into law while being blown by an intern. He is a disgusting pig.

  • viveutvivas

    @Chad Hunt, a constitutional amendment has never had a snowball’s chance of passing Congress though, and Clinton knew that very well.

  • Joetx

    Clinton signed DOMA b/c it was politically expedient for him then.

    Now, Clinton is urging SCOTUS to strike down DOMA b/c it is politically expedient for him.

    DON’T BELIEVE BILL’S LIES RE: A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT! No one was talking about such a thing at the time.

    BTW, Hillary REPEATED THOSE LIES when she ran against Obama.

    Bill can go f himself. He threw us under the bus so that it would boost his chances to get re-elected. In contrast to Obama, who came out in support of marriage equality – though he still took the chicken way out of saying it was up to the states – prior to the election.

  • Joetx

    @viveutvivas: Bill Clinton is NOT a progressive. He’s a neoliberal, which explains his signing into laws that deregulated many industries, the financial industry being a prime example.


    Clinton had to compromise. The 1990’s were a much more conservative time. Like other commentators said, he was forced to support DOMA and DADT. However, it is nice to hear that he is sorry he had to support those measures. Thank you for pushing for equality!

  • Chad Hunt

    @Joetx: I think you need to review history better. Must of us were around in 1996 and know quite well a Constitutional Amendment was being discussed not only in the Clinton years but as well in the Bush years.

  • TxHeat

    DOMA sucks. But if he hadn’t passed it, they would have gotten the constitutional amendment. If not under Clinton, then under Bush. A large part of the reason that Bush DIDN’T get an amendment was because opponents reminded them we already had DOMA, so there was no need for an amendment.

    DADT sucked. But before it passed, gays were flat out barred from service at all. It ended up getting used to perform witch hunts anyway, but that’s because the military broke the rules, and the Bush administration never called them on it.

    Both shitty laws, but less shitty than amendments. If we’d gotten an amendment instead of DOMA, we wouldn’t be talking about gay marriage happening in the next few years, we’d be talking about it maybe happening in the next few decades.

  • damon459

    @andy_d: A pocket veto wouldn’t have done any good in this instance. A pocket veto happens if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, then the bill does not become law. Congress can adjourn and designate an agent to receive veto messages and other communications so that a pocket veto doesn’t happen, an action Congresses have taken routinely for decades. If the president neither signs nor vetoes a bill when Congress is in session, the bill becomes law without his signature after 10 days. Since the bill had a clear majority in both houses it seems very very unlikely they would simply pack up and take a vacation knowing this bill die if they did. Keep in mind 342 congressional representatives and 85 senators voted in favor of DOMA.

  • Joetx

    @Chad Hunt: You’re the one who needs to review history. I was around in 1996 as well.

    If there really were drumbeats of a constitutional amendment, why didn’t they continue after DOMA was signed (prior to GWB’s presidency)? Why would right wingers be satisfied with merely a federal statute???

    BTW, did Clinton use his signing of DOMA to further his re-election chances? Hmm?

    Are you a paid apologist for Bill Clinton or just a “grassroots” apologist?

  • damon459

    Wow Joetex so what your saying is he should have went against what the majority wanted, lost the election and stuck us with Bob Dole? I have to ask were you really around in 1996 and paying attention to what went on in that election cycle? Clinton himself stated that DOMA was something “which the Republicans put on the ballot to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress from presenting that.” Administration spokesman Richard Socarides said, “… the alternatives we knew were going to be far worse, and it was time to move on and get the president re-elected.” The 1996 Republican Party platform endorsed DOMA, referencing only section 2 of the act: “We reject the distortion of [anti-discrimination] laws to cover sexual preference, and we endorse the Defense of Marriage Act to prevent states from being forced to recognize same-sex unions.” You want to hate Clinton fine by all means it’s a free country but you really can’t rewrite it to suit your opinions. It is a horrible law and I’m glad many people are now seeing thing including the man who signed it into law.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Am I remembering correctly? Clinton signed DOMA into law his first week. I remember feeling demoralized by this. It’s really shitty how we were treated by our fellow Americans. I say we do a tax revolt if the SCOTUS hates on us from the bench.

  • John Doe

    Well, even our “fierce advocate” Obama was proclaiming marriage was ONLY between a man and woman just 4 years ago. Every Democrat in the final pool of presidential contenders wanted “traditional” marriage. Then Obama did NOTHING to change DOMA or DADT when Democrats controlled Washington DC for the first 2 years. It really wasn’t until DADT was being forced on his administration that he acted on THAT law.

    What does this tell us?

    Politicians follow public sentiment. They almost always have. We have very few real leaders that will stick their necks out on behalf of the LGBT community…. just like few did in the early years of black civil rights. The majority of the politicians that “evolved” on LGBT issues conveniently did so as other politicians and society evolved. Wow, what a coincidence that everyone has a legal awakening at the same time!!! They happened to change when it becomes more acceptable in society. That is not leading. That is following.

    Sadly we never had very few true non-gay LEADERS when it came to LGBT issues. A few Senators and Representatives “evolved” earlier than the others…. and those are the ones I’d rather recognize above all. Even so, these were mostly in states where LGBT issues were more acceptable to society at that earlier time.

    I don’t mean to be cynical or negative. I’m not trying to be anyway. I just refusing to rewrite history as some people have been doing when it comes to Obama and Clinton. With few exceptions, most politicians played it very safe on LGBT equality. Clinton included. Only in recent years has he become more “equality” minded. Again, how convenient that he evolved on this issue as society became more accepting. His knowledge of Constitutional law should have opened his eyes much earlier. The same with Obama.

    Like I said, I want to recognize those that were equality minded BEFORE society said it was OK to be. That means going back maybe 10 years or more to see WHO supported 100% full equality then without “separate but equal” stipulations. Does anyone know of which politician was saying this then? I’d really like to be reminded if anyone can remember. Maybe THOSE are the people we can recognize…. more than the “followers” we’re currently seeing.

  • damon459

    No you aren’t remembering correctly DOMA was signed September 21 1996 right before the november election. I don’t see how a tax revolt would effect the SCOTUS?

  • Joetx

    @damon459: You’re the one – along w/ Bill Clinton – who is rewriting history.

    But hey, if my so-called “opinion” hurts your hero worship of that Serial Adulterer – who should be the last person lecturing anyone about the sanctity of marriage – I don’t care.

    Let’s put away the Straw Man argument that Clinton wouldn’t have been reelected if he didn’t sign DOMA, okay? There’s no proof that he wouldn’t have been reelected. Plus, that assertion of yours just REINFORCES my argument that Clinton did it for political reasons, so he had absolutely zero compunction about throwing our community under the bus.

  • damon459

    @Joetx: Obviously you don’t know what a straw man argument is for one thing. Secondly I’m not hero worshiping anyone, I simply explained how things were back then. You seem to be forgetting presidents have been “throwing communities under then bus” from the get go. Also where do you get this idea that clinton is lecturing anyone on the sanctity of marriage? Seems to me you are the one with the straw man argument here.

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