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Defending DOMA

Bill Clinton’s shifting justifications for signing the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Illustration by Tony Millionaire  

September 20, 1996: “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position.”

September 27, 2000: “I think what happened in the Congress was that a lot of people who didn’t want to be anti-gay didn’t feel that they should be saying that as a matter of law, without regard to what various churches or religions or others thought, that the United States policy was that all unions that call themselves marriages are, as a matter of law, marriages. I don’t think we’re there yet.”

March 24, 2008: “All [DOMA] said was that Idaho did not have to recognize a marriage sanctified in Massachusetts, and that seemed to be a reasonable compromise in the environment of the time, and it’s a slight rewriting of history … to imply that somehow this was anti-gay when I had more openly gay people in my administration and did more for gay rights and tried to provide an opportunity for gays to serve in the military and did provide an opportunity for gays to serve in civilian positions involving national security that they had been previously been denied to serving in.”

August 13, 2009: “The reason I signed DOMA was—and I said when I signed it—that I thought the question of whether gays should marry should be left up to states and to religious organizations, and if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage, they ought to. We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the eleven referenda much later—in 2004, in the election—which the Republicans put on the ballot to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress from presenting that.”

May 5, 2011: “Our nation’s permanent mission is to form a ‘more perfect union’—deepening the meaning of freedom, broadening the reach of opportunity, strengthening the bonds of community … For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality.”


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