One of the weak spots in LGBTQ history has been the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and, more specifically, President Clinton’s willingness to sign it.
Clinton came to power promising a new day for LGBTQ rights, and instead gave the community the bill that would block marriage equality for 17 years until it was finally overturned. by the Supreme Court.
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How Clinton ended up enshrining discrimination in federal law is one of the topics discussed by political journalist Sasha Issenberg in The Engagement: The Quarter-Century Struggle in the United States for Same-Sex Marriage. From an excerpt published in Politics, it’s hard not to blame the debacle directly at Clinton’s feet.
DOMA was originally the brainchild of Culture War Republicans who wanted to capitalize on the burgeoning movement toward marriage equality in Hawaii. At the time, only two Senate Democrats – Ted Kennedy and Ron Wyden – were declared in favor of same-sex marriage.
DOMA has banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages if states legalize them or offer benefits such as health care to federal employees or Social Security to surviving spouses. He also ensured that federal regulations only defined opposite-sex couples as married.
For four months, the White House Clinton wrestled with how to respond to the bill. “Those four months would be marked by perpetual intrigue, contentious arguments and, for the few openly gay staff members who work there, heart-wrenching desperation,” writes Issenberg.
The White House viewed the bill as a political trap, forcing Clinton to ditch LGBTQ voters in the midst of his re-election campaign. Already, the relationship between Clinton and the LGBTQ community was on shaky ground due to the President’s mismanagement of his promise to allow gay men in the military to result in “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Marsha Scott, the White House liaison for LGBTQ groups, argued that the bill should be vetoed on the grounds that it exceeded state rights. “It can be said that as a former governor the president has a great respect for the right of individual states to define their problems and this issue clearly falls within their prerogative,” Scott wrote to Clinton’s senior adviser, George Stephanopoulos. .
But Issenberg notes that within the administration, “the choice has never been between signing or vetoing the bill.” Instead, it was to avoid it as much as possible.
Perhaps the most influential voice was pollster Dick Morris. âNow the Republicans have a bill we can sign,â Morris told Clinton. “But if we wait to support it, they’ll probably add all kinds of anti-gay amendments to it that you’ll have a hard time signing.”
Morris has since become a political punchline for always being wrong about everything. Even Fox News dumped it, which is something for a network that never cared about accuracy.
At the time, however, Morris had an almost Svengalian influence on Clinton. Clinton only cared about his own re-election. For him, everything was considered political.
The bill passed the Senate on an 85-14 vote, meaning Clinton ultimately had to make a decision after being deliberately vague for months. What he did was quintessentially Clinton. He signed the bill without any reporters present at 12:50 a.m., after returning to the White House from a trip to the West Coast.
The White House argued that the timing was a message hinting at contempt. Issenberg is more specific: âFor many on both sides of the issue, this was an example of Clinton – who in a 2013 editorial would describe the law as’ discriminatory ‘and at odds with America’s values ââof’ freedom, equality and justice. “, While justifying his decision to adopt it – by wanting to have it both ways.”
To add insult to injury, the Clinton campaign then ran commercials on Christian radio stations trumpeting Clinton’s signing of the bill.
“The origins of the ad, especially whether its publication was a careless mistake or an approved tactic, have remained opaque, even to those in Clinton’s orbit who were seeking to identify a responsible party,” writes Issenberg.
What is clear is that this was very much in accordance with Clinton’s political calculation. The man who promised a new day for LGBTQ rights imposed the two most destructive policies of modern times on us.
Eventually they were defeated, but not before they had done untold damage. For Clinton, it had to be worth it. He got re-elected, and that’s all that mattered.
Principles never entered it.