President Clinton’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post yesterday showed a bold reversal of his position on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). With the Supreme Court set to rule on the divisive law this month Clinton remarked, "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."
"Coming to believe" that DOMA is unconstitutional is a Clinton euphemism for political convenience. Whether President Clinton is genuinely in favor of marriage equality is up for debate, but he obviously does not hesitate to align himself with public opinion. It is something that Clinton does best.
The political climate was drastically different in 1996. After the Democrats were destroyed in the 1994 midterm elections, Clinton’s push for "gays in the military" was seen as alienating swing voters. With Hawaii slated to legalize gay marriage in 1996, Congress quickly passed DOMA without much vocal opposition from President Clinton.
Prior to the signing of DOMA Clinton explained, "I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages and this legislation is consistent with that position. The Act confirms the right of each state to determine its own policy with respect to same gender marriage and clarifies for purposes of federal law the operative meaning of the terms 'marriage' and 'spouse.'"
For Bill, even the 2004 presidential campaign was too politically early to challenge DOMA. During John Kerry’s presidential run, Newsweek reported that "Looking for a way to pick up swing voters in the red states, former president Bill Clinton, in a phone call with Kerry, urged the senator to back local bans on gay marriage. Kerry respectfully listened, then told his aides, 'I'm not going to ever do that.'"
The "evolution" of Clinton’s views truly began in 2011. Clinton threw his full support behind a bill pushing for the recognition of same-sex marriage in New York. Through a statement from the Human Rights Campaign, Clinton asserted "Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation. Now we should do it again, in New York, with marriage equality. For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York's welcome must include marriage equality." Clinton also opposed Amendment 1 in North Carolina, which made marriage the only valid domestic legal union in the state.
Clinton attempted to justify his DOMA signature: "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."
The present is a very different time from 1996. Now that the DOMA monkey is off Bill’s back, Hillary can now run in 2016 without any looming baggage from the LGBT community. Is Bill’s reversal genuine? Maybe. Is it great politicking? Absolutely. It is just Bill being Bill.