There is no question that President Clinton saying to the Supreme Court that DOMA should be declared unconstitutional is a major victory in the battle for LGBT full equality. He joins over 300 corporations, 130 major Republicans, over 200 members of Congress and so many more in the long list of Americans, organizations and associations who find DOMA abhorrent. Those who love justice should celebrate this latest addition to our cause.
However, as with DADT, it is important not to rewrite history in order to make him feel better about signing it in the first place. Clinton took the wrong action in 1996 and he did it for purely political reasons. That is the truth of the matter.
In 1996, DOMA was indeed slowly working its way through the House of Representatives and there was a reasonable chance it would pass. There was not an enormous amount of attention to it in the press and we had a good opportunity to stop it in the Senate. Clinton was running for re-election against Senator Robert Dole - a traditionally conservative Republican. He was not an extreme right-winger.
Before the LGBT community even had the opportunity to fight back, President Clinton embraced DOMA and urged Congress to pass it. At that moment we lost all chance to defeat it. Over and over again, I was personally told by Senators that after he endorsed the legislation its fate was sealed.
Clinton today says he signed it to prevent a Constitutional Amendment from passing. The problem with that argument is that such an amendment wasn't really even being considered in a serious way. Not until Karl Rove got a hold of the idea after 2000 did the amendment concept have any legs at all. It just wasn't a serious political factor at all in 1996.
Like DADT, the President's embracing of DOMA was a political move. While he talked about his pain in signing the legislation, his team campaign team immediately created radio ads and started running them throughout the South. In those ads, they proclaimed and celebrated Clinton signing the legislation.
Wikipedia accurately declares:
Some Democrats viewed the legislation as politically motivated rather than a response to societal developments. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts called DOMA the "Endangered Republican Candidates Act"and said it was "a mean-spirited form of legislative gay-bashing designed to inflame the public four months before the November election." Gay and lesbian rights organizations found there was little time to lobby in opposition, because the Clinton administration preferred to have DOMA become law as quickly as possible and not become an issue in the fall presidential campaign. Kennedy led an effort to pass hiring and employment protection for gays and lesbians, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), in concert with DOMA, but the effort failed in the Senate by one vote.
The purpose of a movement is to change minds. Just as we should celebrate Republicans who have changed their minds on full equality we should celebrate President Clinton's change of heart. He is a forceful advocate and a powerful individual. We all should be thrilled he has joined us in the Supreme Court.
However in order to celebrate it is simply not necessary to rewrite history.