On MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Hillary Clinton said that it was the threat of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that led Bill to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
This statement is totally untrue. I was there and there was never any discussion of a constitutional amendment on the subject.
The president discussed DOMA with his staff and advisers at a meeting in June of 1996. I had conducted a survey that showed that likely voters opposed legalizing gay marriage and even opposed legalizing civil unions. Asked if one state should be required to recognize a gay marriage or civil union recognized by another state they were even more overwhelmingly opposed.
The Clinton campaign and administration had been searching for an issue to throw a bone to social conservatives to soften their opposition to the president’s re-election. His decision to sign DOMA was part of that effort. There was never any indication of a potential constitutional amendment on the horizon.
At the June meeting, one of the president’s staff said that he might need some time to “prepare” some other staff members who might be opposed on the president’s action in signing DOMA. President Clinton got red in the face and, gesticulating forcefully, said “I’ve created more than ten million new jobs and maybe they need to go out and take some of them.”
In my bi-weekly meetings with Hillary, the subject of DOMA never came up. I was never aware of any concerns she may have had with the bill and doubt that she expressed any. She understood the importance of moving to the center for the election period and DOMA was a key part of that strategy. I would have heard of any opposition on her part both from the president and from her. For example, during this same period, she opposed his signing the welfare reform act and she and I had several meetings during which I succeeded in persuading her that it was politically necessary that he sign it. She never told me or anyone I know of any opposition to DOMA.
DOMA was passed in response to plans to allow same sex civil unions in various states. In July, 2000, Vermont became the first state to legalize gay civil unions. The concept behind DOMA was to prevent other states that had not recognized same sex civil unions or marriage to avoid having to do so under the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution. DOMA was also amended, just before its passage, to allow the federal government to deny marital benefits to same sex couples even if they lived in states that recognized their civil union.
President Clinton signed DOMA on September 21, 1996, just as the fall campaign was heating up. To say that it was to prevent a constitutional amendment on the subject is a blatant revision of history.
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