Gay HistoryOf Interest

GAY HISTORY- September 20, 1996: The Day Bill Clinton Sold Out The Gay Community And Signed DOMA Into Law

 

September 20, 1996:

On this day in 1996, then President Bill Clinton announced his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and which allowed the Federal Government to ignore the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S Constitution and refuse to recognized valid marriages from other states. Clinton said that he signed DOMA to head off a federal constitutional amendment, but LGBT advocates and many in the political pundits agree  that the act was less than a defense against a federal constitutional amendment and more a defense of his 1996 re-election campaign. Those suspicions were confirmed when the Clinton released a campaign ad in 15 Christian radio stations  in conservative states boasting that he had signed the Defense of Marriage Act. After being found out and because of the response to loud protests from LGBT advocates, the Clinton campaign pulled that ad two days later.

In March of 2013 , Bill Clinton finally disavowed the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, urging that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court.

According to Hillary Clinton in 2915:

On Defense of Marriage [Act], I think what my husband believed — and there was certainly evidence to support it — is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that. And there wasn’t any rational argument — because I was in on some of those discussions, on both ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would — you know, chime in and talk about, ‘You can’t be serious. You can’t be serious.’ But they were. And so, in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further. It was a defensive action.”

A review of congressional record and news coverage from 1996 found little public evidence that Democratic lawmakers decided to vote for DOMA because of a threat of a constitutional amendment.

Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign who fought against DOMA, said the actual threat of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage came after President George W. Bush took office and vowed to reserve marriage for heterosexual unions. There was not, at the time, a kind of concentrated threat of a constitutional amendment. That came four years later.”

Birch and many others have always said that President Clinton’s support for DOMA was a defensive move in that he wanted to “take it out of play for the 1996 election”

In fact Bill Clinton campaigned using DOMA as a re-election tool and ran a controversial radio ad that touted his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act which aired on Christian radio stations in several states

Fast forward to present day.

“President Clinton has evolved on this issue just like every American has evolved,” said Human Rights Campaign, President Chad Griffin. 

Which bears the comment that if he was really against it at the time why would he have to “evolve”.

A little trivia for those who don’t know. Chad Griffin worked as White House Press Office manager  for Mr. Clinton’s White House administration during the time that Clinton  signed of DOMA. 

It took the gay community almost 20 years and countless millions of dollars to undo the harm that Bill Clinton did by signing DOMA into law.

Clinton has never formally apologized for signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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4 thoughts on “GAY HISTORY- September 20, 1996: The Day Bill Clinton Sold Out The Gay Community And Signed DOMA Into Law”

  1. Regarding Clinton’s defense, what do you think would have happened if Clinton hadn’t been elected? As I recall, he claimed that his opponent would have done much worse things, including seeking the constitutional amendment. I would like to hear your response to this.

  2. His opponent likely would have done worse, yes. But let’s be clear about a federal constitutional amendment: That was simply not in the mix, not on the table, and not in the air when Clinton signed DOMA. That is revisionist history that is rejected even by strong Clinton supporters who were LGBT leaders back then and in the loop as to what threats were real — people like Hilary Rosen and Elizabeth Birch and many more who all called out Bill’s revision of history when he tried to sell it a couple of years ago. They weren’t having it, and neither should we. A federal constitutional amendment only became a real prospect during W’s presidency, in response to the Massachusetts and other decisions that started to bring in marriage equality state by state.

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