Today is the 20th anniversary of Bill Clinton signing DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act.
(AP) On Sept. 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages a day after saying the law should not be used as an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against gays and lesbians. (Although never formally repealed, DoMA was effectively overturned by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2015.)
And Clinton was not some lone-renegade Democrat either. Here’s a full list of Democrats who signed DOMA (a list that includes Sen. Harry Reid and current VP Joe Biden).
A very reasonable question to ask: What changed since 1996?
What changed beyond the politics? Or beyond the culture and pop-culture movement on the issue. Those arenas of thought change like current fashion.
Have you seen what the campaign website for Hillary Clinton says about DOMA? Reading it, you might think DOMA was foisted on the nation entirely by the opposition party, not a bipartisan effort. Take a look:
Prior to a June 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singled out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law. This law discriminated in two important ways. First, Section 2 of DOMA purports to allow states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples. Second, Section 3 of the law carves all same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, out of all federal statutes, regulations and rulings applicable to all other married people—thereby denying them over 1,100 federal benefits and protections.
Fortunately, the Court held Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in Windsor v. United States (2013). Two years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court ruled that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional. This ruling supersedes Section 2 of DOMA and therefore leaves it unenforceable. However, DOMA’s discriminatory language still remains part of the U.S. Code, even though it is unenforceable.
If DOMA was all that badness wrapped up into one piece of Democratically-endorsed and Democratically signed legislation, then why did all those Ivy-League trained lawyers support it? Starting with the two brilliant legal minds who then occupied the White House?
I realize that the Clintons now claim that they supported DOMA as a mechanism for stopping a Constitutional Amendment against same-sex marriage. But even gay activists refute that rewriting of history.
It’s not that a politician can never change a belief or come to a different understanding on an issue.
But do we really believe that the Clintons were for DOMA? No.
Do we have any evidence that the Clintons were against DOMA? No.
Whatever you think of DOMA, who can respect, or trust, such trickiness on such an important issue of our times?