Bill Clinton, Who Signed DOMA into Law in 1996, Calls on Supreme Court to Overturn It

Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in 1996, calls on the Supreme Court to overturn it in a Washington Post editorial. He writes, in part:

ClintonIn 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.

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.

Arguments will be made before SCOTUS to do so on March 27.

Comments

  1. daftpunkydavid says

    thanks, mr president; but why not submit a brief to the scotus in the windsor/doma case?

  2. nn says

    I think Clinton did the best he could do in 1996 ans the situation at the time. I think he prevented that worse law was passed against LGBT people, it was a compromise at the time. I think it is time people stop judge him. You go Clinton and thank you.

  3. Skeptical Cicada says

    Clinton is lying and trying to falsely portray himself as some kind of gay hero for signing the most anti-gay piece of legislation in American history.

    The federal marriage amendment did not emerge until the early 2000s–a half decade after DOMA. DOMA was not about “defusing” a constitutional amendment. That is a blatant lie that he has been repeating for years.

    The Republican Congress sent Clinton the DOMA bill in the summer of 1996 because it was the middle of his re-election campaign. They wanted him to have to sign an anti-gay bill (and alienate gay voters) or veto it (and let them attack him for supporting gay marriage). A constitutional amendment would not even have served their political purposes, because a constitutional amendment goes from Congress to the states. The President has no role in signing or vetoing constitutional amendments.

    His revisionist history is demonstrably false, and it is extremely insulting that he keeps repeating the lie.

  4. Kevin Foster says

    It’s hard not to have conflicted feeling about President Clinton. There was so much that was good. And, as NN here said and Clinton himself, passage of DOMA, while abjectly abysmal, likely prevented much worse from happening. Still and forevermore though a blot that may be remembered throughout human history along with other hideously unjust laws from times past. I know I wouldn’t want my family’s name associated with DOMA in any way whatsoever, much less enshrining it into law. It is good to hear him speak against it in the present day, would have been nice to attach to one of the briefs.

  5. matt says

    What he should do is apologize to gay people for signing both DOMA and DADT.
    A sincere apology is better than this tortured combination of advocacy and self-defense.
    An apology would have more of an effect on anyone who reads it, including the court.

  6. says

    To those of us living in LA back in ’92 who melted over his innumerable “I feel your pain” exhortations I don’t know that President Clinton can ever undo what he did in signing DADT and DOMA. On purely Federalism grounds DOMA author Bob Barr called for DOMA’s repeal four years ago http://tinyurl.com/a39xce .

    A relative of mine developed a hotel which received the first LEED platinum rating for a hotel in energy efficiency. Before developing the hotel, he toured the W.J. Clinton Presidential Library in AR with President Clinton, which had been awarded a lesser silver rating when it was built. My relative told me “President Clinton said if he had it to do over again he would have gone for the platinum rating.”

    Therein lies one of the keys to understanding the complex Mr. Clinton: “if I had it to do over again…”

  7. Kevin Foster says

    All these reversals we see after folks leave political office, are truly an indictment of modern politics. When politicians play games with laws, they also play games with lives. Would that they remembered that at the onset.

  8. Mitchell says

    An explosive issue 3 months before an election which would have been counter-vetoed by Congress if he had vetoed it, yeah we all wouldn’t have done what he did.

  9. Belthazar says

    @Skeptical has it right, which deserves repeating, “…The federal marriage amendment did not emerge until the early 2000s–a half decade after DOMA. DOMA was not about “defusing” a constitutional amendment. That is a blatant lie that he has been repeating for years.

    The Republican Congress sent Clinton the DOMA bill in the summer of 1996 because it was the middle of his re-election campaign. They wanted him to have [him] sign an anti-gay bill (and alienate gay voters) or veto it (and let them attack him for supporting gay marriage). A constitutional amendment would not even have served their political purposes, because a constitutional amendment goes from Congress to the states. The President has no role in signing or vetoing constitutional amendments.

    His revisionist history is demonstrably false, and it is extremely insulting that he keeps repeating the lie.”

    Like Daschle and others, just admit it was wrong — plain and simple.

  10. Marc C says

    Shouldn’t you be out dipping your cigar into an intern Bill? You’re not forgiven no matter how much I despise Republican swill. I’ll still vote for your wife. She’s shown more balls than you could ever hope to.

    I was there and I don’t forget.

  11. MateoM says

    Everyone ignore Rise. He is an alias of Rick/Jason, the resident troll here on Towleroad.

  12. Lars says

    While I’m glad for his support now, he is playing with history a bit. It is much easier to argue that DADT was a politically necessary trade-off (between open service and an outright ban). Not so much with DOMA. I get it, he was boxed into a corner, in an election year, and a veto would have been overrode anyway. But he should just admit that.

  13. bambinoitaliano says

    The stake is lower when you are not the sitting president. This is one of your few error while in power Mr. President.

  14. says

    He can’t rewrite the history that led him to sign DOMA. It was wrong then and it is wrong now whatever the justifications. But he can stand on the right side of history now, and he is. It matters, and it shows where we’re headed–towards the end of DOMA, finally.

  15. Bob says

    LET’S REMEMBER THE FACTS — although Clinton would have preferred a more liberal law, this was the best compromise he could get from Congress. DOMA passed overwhelmingly, so that if Clinton had vetoed it, the veto would easily have been overridden, giving more fuel to the bad guys.
    A PRESIDENT HAS ALMOST NO CHOICE IN SIGNING BILLS PASSED BY LARGE MAJORITIES.
    However, I am angry at him for messing up, so that GWB had a chance to get in.

  16. rise says

    Bill Clinton is a pig who defecated on our rights by signing DOMA into law. This pig also signed DADT into law despite promising that gays would be allowed to serve openly.

  17. RISE says

    I wish that I could’ve been the one who sucked off Bill in the Oval Office. I’ve never gotten over that.

  18. Wilberforce says

    Let’s not try to explain electoral strategy and political reality to the crowd here. They’re having to much fun with their self-righteous pose.

  19. SC David says

    Is late better than never? This op-ed is so self-serving and so insincere that it seems narcissistic. Ooh, he included a signing statement saying nobody should discriminate–what courageous leadership (not)! I might accept an apology if he had offered one. Or viewed him as sincere if he submits an amicus brief on DOMA by the deadline. But Bill’s like the ex that swears—with tear-filled eyes and while biting his lower lip, every time you catch him tomcatting around—that it didn’t mean anything and he only cares for you.

  20. Marc C says

    Well now WILBERFORCE, perhaps it’s time for less political posturing and time for more principal. I won’t even bother with your statement about electoral strategy since he had nothing to lose and as you know, anything that he did do meant absolutely nothing positive for either us, or the rest of the country. We still had eight miserable years of Cheney and signing DOMA or not signing it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference.

  21. rise says

    Bill Clinton is a pig who did pig diarrhea on our faces while wearing a smile on his face. He rubbed his green diarrhea into our faces and we’re still paying for it today.

  22. Wes says

    I’m a lifelong democrat, but Bill Clinton is a despicable human being. Both he and Newt Gringrich were screwing women other than their wives when they concocted DOMA. Hypocrites.

  23. EdA says

    Sorry. While concededly Clinton did his signing in relative obscurity, he could even more easily allowed the bills to become law without besmirching his own name by signing them.

    He COULD have, but didn’t.

  24. Rise says

    I wish that I could do some scat play with Bill Clinton. It’s all that I’ve dreamt of since 1992.

  25. andrew says

    @Mateom: It is easy to disregard the vulgar anti-Clinton posts of Rise. It is harder to disregard or understand the motivation of the person who is posting numerous, equally vulgar, comments in the name of Rise. That person may be intending to make Rise look foolish, what he is accomplishing is cheapening the quality of debate on this gay website. Thats a damn shame!

  26. Houndentenor says

    It’s not just that he signed the bill. That’s bad enough. He actually bragged about signing the bill in radio spots during the 1996 campaign. And I notice this hasn’t come with an apology. While there has often been anti-gay laws at the state level, Congress only passed two laws openly hostile to gay people and Bill Clinton signed both of them. He should at least admit that what he did was wrong at the time and stop making excuses. He did what was politically expedient and it has caused much harm to many gay and lesbian people.

  27. rick scatorum says

    Would any politician actually do the right thing if it meant jeopardizing reelection?

    Reminds me of Hillary voting for the Iraq war.

    Just saw “primary colors” for the second time. For politicians, the ends truly justifies the means.

  28. rick scatorum says

    Maybe the constitution should be amended:

    To one six year presidential term

  29. rick scatorum says

    BTW, biden voted for doma

    Also sad how quickly both houses rushed to pass this legislation to diminish American citizens, and by such large margins

  30. candideinnc says

    He knew what he was doing was caving in to the Rethugs, and was a betrayal of gays. He did it anyway because he didn’t want to waste political capital. The stuff about not knowing DOMA was discriminatory is BS. Still, I voted for him twice. He did do some good things for gays.

  31. David Hearne says

    As much as I despise this being the truth, there is such a thing as politics and political currency. I remember everyone getting his panties in a knot over DOMA, but it’s important to realize two things:

    • DOMA didn’t change anything. The federal government did not at the time recognize or respect gay marriages except in the case of diplomatic courtesy (the same as we do for polygamous diplomats).

    • The legislation was clearly unconstitutional and it would have been a waste of Presidential currency to VETO it when it was going to be overturned by the USSC anyway.

    For you “17 years too late” folks: no, it’s simply been 17 years. That would be 17 years of rather steady progress which while not attributable to Bill Clinton is also not attributable to the Human Rights Campaign, which as you know is little more than a front and cash cow for “progressives”.

  32. says

    It’sad to see some of these comments. President Clinton had no choice! DOMA was supported by almost all the members of Congress. His veto would have been overriden the next day, and he would have looked weak. At the time, this law was VERY popular. To veto it would have been a mistake politically.

    That mistake could have led to a loss to Dole in the 1996 election. Given this alternative, the Clintons decided to support DOMA. But Clinton’s second term was preferrable to a Dole presdiency.

    The Republicans played politics with this, and won.

  33. FunMe says

    We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for Bill Clinton “compromising” us the GLBT Anericans. He could have easily signed a VETO but he didn’t. He was too busy having sex with others not his wife while denying GLBT Americans in committed relationships a chance to cenent their love. Clinton had no courage to stand up for what was right. Now we are fixing the problem he helped create. Despicable!

  34. Bill says

    @FunMe: while he could have vetoed the legislation, it had passed by a wide enough majority that congress would easily have overridden the veto (which takes a 2/3 vote of the senate and the house of representatives, each voting in favor of overriding a veto by at least that margin).

    Having the votes to override a veto is unusual, but DOMA had wide enough support for that to be easily done. About 7% of bills that were vetoed have been enacted by overriding the veto.

    There’s another mechanism called a pocket veto, where the president simply doesn’t sign the bill, but that only works as a veto if congress is not in session. If congress is in session for 10 days after the president receives the bill and the president does nothing, the bill becomes law.

  35. ble.d_out.colo.r says

    Please you can’t even tell me his sh*t don’t stank. The “it was a different time” excuse doesn’t and never will fly.

    The Salem witch trials and burnings were a different time. Doesn’t make it remotely okay. B*tch, please. Go crawl under a rock and let Hillary get sh*t done. We all know she wears the pantsuit in the relationship anyway.

    /RAGE

  36. Derrick says

    Poor Bill gets tarred with things not his doing.

    DADT was the liberalization of the former policy of witch hunts against gays; he wanted full inclusion and the Dems in congress abandoned him, but Clinton gets the blame.

    DOMA was a Republican creation and cause, and again Dems in Congress backed it so it had a veto-proof majority, but Clinton gets the blame

  37. Bill says

    @RAGE: If we could send you back in time to the Salem Witch Trials, how far would you get if you told them, “Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are a figment of your imagination, and even if there is a deity that created the world, unlikely as that may be, it would not care about the foibles of creatures about 2 meters tall in a universe whose currently visible extent is around 10 to the 26 meters across.” They’d probably burn you at the stake too – for blasphemy.

    That’s kind of the situation Clinton was in. Nothing he could have done would have improved the situation.

    It’s worth noting that Clinton was always willing to compromise if that was the only way of moving in the direction he wanted to go. Then he’d try again and make some more progress. It’s not pretty and not ideologically pure, and doesn’t look particularly principled, but it is probably better than making no progress at all.