How’s that again, Hillary?: the Clinton DOMA fantasy


In an Oct. 23 interview on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” former secretary of state Hillary Clinton claimed that President Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a “defensive action,” done to prevent a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Simply put, this is revisionist history at its finest. And it’s a problem for the Clinton campaign.

DOMA was the law passed defining marriage as between a man and a woman, at the federal level, while also allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states. It passed overwhelmingly in Congress — 342-67 in the House, and 85-14 in the Senate — and was signed by President Clinton shortly after passing the Senate. It was struck down by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor on June 26, 2013.

The Supreme Court ruling that DOMA was unconstitutional is what partially paved the way for gay marriage to become fully legal in the U.S. — thanks to the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in June. Both cases were monumental victories in the fight for marriage equality, as well as for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights, in general.

President Clinton disavowed the law in 2013, after years of regretting his decision to sign it. The New York Times reported that he signed to avoid losing in a re-election year. Whatever his reasoning, there is no reason to believe that he signed it in order to somehow help the LGBTQ community, by shelving the possibility of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The Washington Post looked into Secretary Clinton’s claim and rated it “four Pinocchios”  — the lowest rating possible — because there was not, as she had said, “certainly evidence to support” the belief that “there was enough political momentum” for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“This broader characterization of events frames the political momentum toward a constitutional amendment as so prevalent that DOMA had to be enacted as a defensive measure to stop the bubbling movement,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote for the Post. “That’s absolutely wrong.”

The Washington Free Beacon published an article citing President Clinton’s biographer, Taylor Branch, who said that during a June 10, 1999, interview with the president, Clinton said: “You know I signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and I thought it was right at the time, but I’m not sure that it is. Generally I support the gay agenda, right down on the line.”

That comment by the president presents a stark contrast to Secretary Clinton’s statement to Maddow.

Secretary Clinton’s sudden change on the purpose of President Clinton’s signing of DOMA, and the subsequent media response to call her out on her mischaracterization, is a problem for her campaign, not only with LGBTQ voters, but also with voters who already thought of her as untrustworthy. The last thing Clinton and her campaign need right now is another reason for voters to see her as dishonest, but that is exactly how she has set herself up.

I challenge the LGBTQ community and its allies to hold Secretary Clinton responsible for her misleading, untrue remarks, rather than allowing her to let it slip away into the political ether.

DOMA was never about protecting LGBTQ rights. Don’t let Hillary Clinton tell you that it was.

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