Socarides: Why Bill Clinton Signed DOMA

Richard Socarides, who was Clinton's aide on LGBT issues in 1996 when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed, writes about Clinton's journey on gay rights issues, and why he signed the discriminatory law.

Writes Socarides, in part:

Inside the White House, there was a genuine belief that if the President vetoed the Defense of Marriage Act, his reëlection could be in jeopardy. There was a heated debate about whether this was a realistic assessment, but it became clear that the President’s chief political advisers were not willing to take any chances. Some in the White House pointed out that DOMA, once enacted, would have no immediate practical effect on anyone—there were no state-sanctioned same-sex marriages then for the federal government to ignore. I remember a Presidential adviser saying that he was not about to risk a second term on a veto, however noble, that wouldn’t change a single thing nor make a single person’s life better.

What we didn’t fully comprehend was that, sooner than anyone imagined, there would be thousands of families who would be harmed by DOMA—denied federal benefits, recognition, and security, or kept apart by immigration laws.

During the campaign season, Clinton would sometimes complain publicly about how the Republicans were using the marriage issue against him. He said, derisively, that it was “hardly a problem that is sweeping the country” and his press secretary called it “gay baiting, pure and simple.” And that September, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, President Clinton signed it.

There are no pictures of this occasion—no pens that were saved. My advice to the people who arranged for these things was to get it done and out of the way as quickly as possible; he signed it late at night one evening after returning from a day-long campaign trip…

Read the full piece HERE.

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


  1. Lars says

    The Clinton bashing on here is endlessly amusing. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, there is something called political reality. Which we ignore at our peril. I was 13 years old in 1996, and even then I understood that a veto of DOMA would be a) futile and b) a political liability of uncertain (but potentially extraordinary) magnitude.

    But yeah, all you principled purists can keep living in your fantasy world where you backstab our supporters and cut off your noses. See how well that works our for ya.

  2. Jeremy says

    I agree with Lars. Let’s remember that DOMA was supported by a bipartisan Congress. The political spectra was much different, and honestly, it is pretty amazing to see how it has shifted so drastically since then.

  3. Michaelandfred says

    Odd, very few people congratulated Christie on sticking to his principles on the NJ veto. We heard about ego and countering the will of elected officials. The reality is exactly what this piece says, sadly. Over 70% of Americans were vehemently against us with no one realistically imagining any state with marriage equality. 20 years ago! A totally different world from now. Now is a totally different world from 6-7 years ago.

    Some times you have to pick your battles, and with those battles there are always losers. I remember back then if others don’t or refuse to. At the height of the AIDS epidemic Reagan never once said the word gay. Look at what it took to get Obama to finally commit and Clinton was trying it 20 years ago.

  4. MaryM says

    Perhaps Clinton did not intend for the horrific DOMA law to have such disastrous consequences for the lives of millions of LGBT Americans, but that is the reality of that poisonous law he signed.

    At the very least he needs to acknowledge the damage he has wreaked on our lives and to apologise honestly for it.

    Clinton did far more harm to LGBT Americans than George W. Bush did.

    He may not have intended to, but he did.

    He does NOT get a pass for this.

  5. Brian says

    Did he sign an amicus brief telling the Court that? If not, who cares? The justices (at least in theory) decide cases based on the briefs submitted to them, not op eds.

  6. candideinnc says

    Don’t buy it al all! Political cowardice. He lied to us about supporting us on this issue going into office. He should have vetoed both DOMA and DADT. There would have been heat, but he ended up looking like a pussy for backing down on all his promises, and I think that is why he lost congress to the THugs two years later. Rationalizations!

  7. David says

    Bill Clinton has always done what is best for Bill Clinton and his family. He took our support and then threw us under the bus when it wasn’t convenient for BILL CLINTON. If he didn’t like it then, why hasn’t he been working tirelessly to get it repealed until now when it’s convenient for, you guessed it, Bill Clinton.

  8. Rick says

    “In other words, Bill Clinton has no principles”

    And guess what? Neither does his wife, despite the desperate desire of some of you to convince yourselves otherwise.

  9. It was THE EQUALITY, Stupid. says

    Sold for 30 pieces of silver.

    I hate Bill Clinton with a passion. Saw him trying to rationalize his signing of DOMA the other day, saying that he was afraid that if he didn’t sign it, the Republicans would’ve passed a Marriage Amendment-made zero sense whatsoever,. He’s trying to do a little revisionism and a little image rehab on this issue. He should just go bang another intern already.

  10. says

    Well, I’m with Lars.

    This is one of those things that I understand, while still not particularly liking or “accepting” it.

    I *do* understand it all, in terms of history. Do y’all forget what the early 90s were like?

  11. Hank Plante says

    I love Bill Clinton but this is pathetic. His weakly written opposition to DOMA comes out now. Given the fact that he signed it, he should have been the leading voice for repeal. And what about all the leaders who had the guts to vote against it at the time? (Boxer, Feinstein, Kerry, etc.). This is too little, too late.

  12. 24play says

    I made my peace with Bill Clinton several years ago, and I am grateful for his advocacy on LGBT equality these days.
    I’m much less forgiving of Socarides.
    Funny how Socarides pulls out all the stops to build a case that political reality made signing DOMA necessary, yet he’s spent the past 4 years doing nothing but bash Obama for not delivering on LGBT issues on Socarides’ own timeline. Where is the acknowledgement from Socarides that the same politically expedient delays and evasions that he’s relentlessly hammered the Obama administration for were masterminded by Socarides’ during his tenure in the Clinton administration? Has this man zero self-awareness?

    I also can’t help but notice that Socarides fails to mention that, after arguing that he was being forced to sign DOMA into law, Clinton ran ads in the South during the 1996 reelection campaign CROWING about having signed DOMA.

  13. El Camino Billy says

    @Lars: “I was 13 years old in 1996, and even then I understood…”

    So it took the naivete of a childish 13-year old’s barely pubescent intellect to buy what Clinton’s people were sellin’.

    And the wisdom of years has taught you nothing?

  14. anon says

    There was almost no chance Bob Dole could have won in 1996. BC was a lock-in for re-election. The only political issue was retaking congress, and I’m hard-pressed to see how signing DOMA would have elected more Democrats to congress. Bill’s coattails were not enough, no matter how centrist he tried to be, to pull in enough seats to change congress. So, if you’re going to defend Clinton, remember that he did little to help other Democrats in addition to gays.

  15. Omar says

    I stand with Lars as well. You have to live to fight another day and compromises are made when political reality tells you that it must be done.

    Has Obama or any president, done everything they said they would?

  16. Bill says

    @24play: you mean he tried to fool one of the most homophobic parts of the U.S. into thinking he really supported it.

    He signed it knowing that a veto would be overridden, and that Dole would try to turn the veto into a campaign issue. No surprise – he was running for president, not as the second coming of Jesus. Unlike the Biblical account (whether you believe it or not is irrelevant), Clinton was not into being crucified, even figuratively, for the sins of others.

  17. Zlick says

    Sacrificing the welfare of actual people, sometimes their very lives, in fact, is just something that Presidents do. I don’t excuse them for it, but neither do I feign shock.

    Clinton did a lot of deplorable things. Just less deplorable, on the whole, than most. And I always give him credit for contributing 97% goodness in all his public speaking. Not something all presidents to, by a long shot.

    I think it was very short-sighted, if not totally cynical, to think no one would be affected by DOMA in the coming years of its existence. I don’t buy it for a minute. But Clinton’s poor record of compromise on gay rights has long been well-known, so I’m not going to get all crazy about it now.

  18. 24play says

    Bill: No, I don’t mean that. Clinton may have been trying to fool homophobic voters in the South with those ads during the campaign. OR he may have been trying to fool all of us when he claimed that he really didn’t want to sign the law. But obviously, those two actions are incompatible. Or at least they would be to a person with integrity.

  19. Bill says

    @24play: I don’t think he really wanted to sign the law. In fact, I don’t think he wanted the law to have even been introduced – it is well known that it was introduced in the hope of giving Bob Dole a campaign issue he could run with, and that’s the last thing Clinton wanted. Instead, Clinton ran rings around Dole by signing the bill, maybe taking credit, but doing absolutely nothing to help the bill along.

    While you might consider that to show a complete lack of integrity, it is no different than what goes on in Washington every day. The last president we had who tried to act like a sunday-school teacher (or who at least tried to make it look like he did) was Jimmy Carter, and we all know what happened to him. It’s really an impossible situation. The voters will get mad if the president says what they do not want to hear, and then people complain when the voters get what they asked for.

  20. Randy says

    He signed it because this “great” political mind got outmaneuvered on something as simple as love.

    He wasn’t smart. He just was willing to throw some other Democratic constituencies under the bus to gain power.

    Now we wonder where the jobs went.

  21. GB says

    Kiwi:: I was in a relationship that had been going on for 14 years in the early 90’s We weren’t thinking about DOMA. We loved each other and were living together as a couple in Pacific Palisades, California. That’s what we did then. Bill Clinton probably signed DOMA to cover for Monica Lewinsky. P.S My ex and are still the closest of friends but there was no bad divorce. As you marrieds may find – relationships can run their course.

  22. Jake says

    He’s clearing the path for his wife. It’s all politics. Face it. Even your most liberal person really doesn’t like homosexuals. Think about it.

  23. says

    Our biggest enemies have always been our “friends” who rationalize that, by doing the wrong thing against us to stay in office, they can do so much good to make up for it. “But what does it profit a man that he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

  24. 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

  25. NY2.0 says

    Forget Bill Clinton a bit. I really can’t stand Richard Socarides. This guy is so understanding and supportive of the need for laws such as DOMA and DADT at the time. Yet he has spent the last 4 years lashing out at Obama for not cleaning up the mess he helped create almost 20 years ago? Richard Socarides is simply filthy and has zero credibility.

  26. BobN says

    Could someone, anyone, who is attacking Clinton for signing DOMA willing to lay out the scenario that would have had us in a better place at the time or even today if he had vetoed the law?

    I’m curious where you folks think it would have gone.

    1) Clinton vetoes DOMA

    2) ??? What next?

  27. Wilberforce says

    Don’t try discussing issues with the emotionally stunted crowd. Political reality doesn’t exist for them, or compromise, or strategic retreat.
    They want what they want, and they want it now. Period. End of discussion.
    Better to let the ignorant masses yammer on, and to speak only with educated adults.

  28. Rich says

    Clinton could have done what his successor in the Arkansas State House just did over an abortion bill: declared that it was unconstitutional and he wouldn’t sign it. Or does that little phrase “preserve, defend and protect the Constitution of the United States” have as little effect as the “so help me God” that recent Presidents have felt required to add to the oath of office?

  29. David says

    BOBN: Clinton vetoes DOMA, shows some backbone and support for our community who helped elect him. If Republicans want to override the veto, they have to stand up and be counted as bigots for all of history. Clinton still elected to a second term against a very weak opponent. Many of these old timers who voted for it and are still around would have a much harder time getting reelected now. That’s what’s next.

  30. andrew says

    I know that Bill Clinton, like all of us, is a flawed human being. I am proud that I voted for him twice in his election victories. I think that all things considered he was an excellent president. I will eagerly vote for my democratic Representative in 2014 and for the Democratic Party’s candidate for President in 2016. Because all things considered the Democratic Party is our best option.

  31. MICHAEL A. RORER says


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