Some of the very same people who have jumped up and down with delight as Brandon Eich lost his job will doubtless be backing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 if she runs. The “Ready for Hillary” ranks are crowded with gay men – and good for them. But it’s worth considering some consistency here. If it is unconscionable to support a company whose CEO once donated to the cause against marriage equality, why is it not unconscionable to support a candidate who opposed marriage equality as recently as 2008, and who was an integral part of an administration that embraced the Defense Of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton? How do you weigh the relative impact of a president strongly backing DOMA – even running ads touting his support for it in the South – and an executive who spent $1000 for an anti-marriage equality Proposition?
Hillary Clinton only declared her support for marriage equality in 2013. Before that, she opposed it. In 2000, she said that marriage “has a historic, religious and moral context that goes back to the beginning of time. And I think a marriage has always been between a man and a woman.” Was she then a bigot? On what conceivable grounds can the Democratic party support a candidate who until only a year ago was, according to the latest orthodoxy, the equivalent of a segregationist, and whose administration enacted more anti-gay laws and measures than any in American history?
There is a difference, of course, between Brendan Eich and Hillary Clinton. Eich has truly spoken of the pain he once caused and owned up to it:
“I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to ‘show, not tell’; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.”
Has either Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton ever expressed sorrow that they hurt so many lives, gave cover to some of the vilest homophobes, and credentialized themselves with some on the right by rank homophobia in the 1996 campaign? Not to my knowledge. They have regretted what they did but never taken full moral responsibility for the hurt and pain they caused.
My view is that the Clintons are not and never have been bigots.
They’re human beings in changing times who had good intentions and sometimes failed to live up to them. The same with Brandon Eich, a man with infinitely less power than the Clintons but who nonetheless did the wrong thing. The same with vast numbers of Americans who haven’t yet been persuaded by the winning arguments of those of us who have campaigned for marriage equality for decades.
Human beings are complicated and flawed – gays as well as straights; and a liberal civil society does not attempt to impose on all of them a single moral code, or consign large numbers of them to the “bigot” category because they may be laggards in a civil rights cause. That way lies madness. And the end of a liberal and tolerant society. If you can forgive the Clintons, you should be able to forgive Eich. And have a little magnanimity and restraint before you snatch moral defeat from the jaws of political victory.
(Photo: US President Bill Clinton in picture taken 16 October 1996 in San Diego gets a hug from his wife Hillary after the presidential debate with Republican candidate Bob Dole Shiley Theater. By Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images.)