A tip of the hat to Terri Gross who simply and persistently tried to get out of Clinton why she supported the Defense Of Marriage Act in 1996, and why and when she changed her mind on marriage equality. Listen to the full exchange here:
Clinton says she didn’t support gay marriage in the 1990s but subsequently changed her mind. When and why she changed her mind is what Gross was trying to get at. Had she changed it by the time she and her husband left the White House? Or when George W Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004? Was she still opposed to marriage equality when Massachusetts became the first state to enact it legislatively in the same year? The answers to these questions remain mysterious.
But one thing isn’t mysterious: she was not just another evolving American. She was the second most powerful person in an administration in a critical era for gay rights. And in that era, her husband signed the HIV travel ban into law (it remained on the books for 22 years thereafter), making it the only medical condition ever legislated as a bar to even a tourist entering the US. Clinton also left gay service-members in the lurch, doubling the rate of their discharges from the military, and signed DOMA, the high watermark of anti-gay legislation in American history. Where and when it counted, the Clintons gave critical credibility to the religious right’s jihad against us. And on the day we testified against DOMA in 1996, their Justice Department argued that there were no constitutional problems with DOMA at all (the Supreme Court eventually disagreed).
What I’d like to hear her answer is whether she regrets that period and whether she will ever take responsibility for it. But she got pissed when merely asked how calculated her position on this was.
Here’s my guess:
Unlike Obama, she was personally deeply uncomfortable with this for a long time and politically believed the issue was a Republican wedge issue to torment the Clintons rather than a core civil rights cause. I was editor of TNR for five years of the Clintons, aggressively writing and publishing articles in favor of marriage equality and military service, and saw the Clintons’ irritation with and hostility to gay activists up close. Under my editorship, we were a very early 1991 backer of Clinton – so I sure didn’t start out prejudiced against them. They taught me that skepticism all by themselves, and mainly by lying all the time.
So when did she evolve? Maybe in the middle 2000s. Was political calculation as big an influence as genuine personal wrestling? She’s a Clinton. They poll-tested where to go on vacation. Of course it was. But she’s also a human being and probably came around personally as well. She’s not a robot, after all. But I think of her position as the same as the eponymous gay rights organization the Clintons controlled in the 1990s, the Human Rights Campaign. As long as marriage equality hurt the Democrats, they were against it. Now it may even hurt Republicans, they’re for it. So Hillary is for it now. We’ve just got to hope the polling stays strong.