Bill, Hillary Clinton on DOMA Ruling: ‘A More Perfect Union’

Photograph by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Mollie Wagoner, of Maryland, second right, and Sharon Burk, of New Jersey, celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and declined to rule on the California law Proposition 8 in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2013.

Bill Clinton, elected president in 1992, signed the law in 1996.

He walked away from it this year.

Hillary Clinton, considering a campaign for president in 2016, made her own sentiments known not long before the Supreme Court today struck down the key provisions of the federal law defining marriage as a matter for a man and woman.

The two issued a joint statement today on the ruling:

“By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union. We are also encouraged that marriage equality may soon return to California. We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day, and congratulate Edie Windsor on her historic victory.”

Today’s decisions are a great step forward for #MarriageEquality. Grateful to all who fought tirelessly for this day. http://t.co/ibGcduTWvs

This is now. Peter Baker so wonderfully reported on that was then:

“It was 10 minutes before 1 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 1996, and there were no cameras, no ceremony. The witching-hour timing bespoke both political calculation and personal angst. With his signature, federal law now defined marriage as the union of a man and woman. Mr. Clinton considered it a gay-baiting measure, but was unwilling to risk re-election by vetoing it.”

“For nearly 17 years since, that middle-of-the-night moment has haunted Mr. Clinton, the source of tension with friends, advisers and gay rights supporters. He tried to explain, defend and justify. He asked for understanding. Then he inched away from it bit by bit. Finally this month, he disavowed the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, urging that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court, which takes up the matter on Wednesday on the second of two days of arguments devoted to same-sex marriage issues.”

The Clinton statement today marks a sea-change from 1996, a societal change that has swept up President Barack Obama, who made his own evolved feelings about gay marriage known during his 2012 reelection campaign, and much of the nation in the intervening decades. Republican Mitt Romney hadn’t evolved on the issue, which surely figured in the calculation of votes cast by many in November.

On Friday, Sept. 20, prior to signing the Defense of Marriage Act, Clinton released the following statement:

“Throughout my life I have strenuously opposed discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. I am signing into law H.R. 3396, a bill relating to same-gender marriage, but it is important to note what this legislation does and does not do.

“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”.

“This legislation does not reach beyond those two provisions. It has no effect on any current federal, state or local anti-discrimination law and does not constrain the right of Congress or any state or locality to enact anti-discrimination laws…

“I also want to make clear to all that the enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination, violence and intimidation for that reason, as well as others, violate the principle of equal protection under the law and have no place in American society.”

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