Clinton replies to a request that he call for the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” by recounting his side of the story of what happened 16 years ago:
[P]residents aren’t dictators. They voted — they were about to vote for the old policy by margins exceeding 80 percent in the House and exceeding 70 percent in the Senate. The gave test votes out there to send me a message that they were going to reverse any attempt I made by executive order to force them to accept gays in the military. And let me remind you that the public opinion now is more strongly in our favor than it was 16 years ago, and I have continued supporting it. That John Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under me, was against Don’t Ask — was against letting gays serve — is now in favor of it. This is a different world. That’s the point I’m trying to make.Let me also say something that never got sufficient publicity at the time: When General Colin Powell came up with this Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it was defined while he was chairman much differently than it was implemented. He said: ‘If you will accept this, here’s what we’ll do. We will not pursue anyone. Any military members out of uniform will be free to march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings. Whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives, none of this will be a basis for dismissal.’ It all turned out to be a fraud because of the enormous reaction against it among the middle-level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So nobody regrets how this was implemented any more than I do. But the Congress also put that into law by a veto-proof majority, and many of your friends voted for that, believing the explanation about how it would be eliminated. So, I hated what happened. I regret it. But I didn’t have, I didn’t think at the time, any choice if I wanted any progress to be made at all. Look, I think it’s ridiculous. Can you believe they spent — whatever they spent — $150,000 to get rid of a valued Arabic speaker recently?
As cruel, unjust, and militarily stupid as the policy’s implementation has been, I have a hard time blaming him for doing the best he could in 1993 terms. But his allowing the Defense of Marriage Act to pass on his watch is much harder to swallow.
Chris Bodenner recalls Andrew Sullivan’s critique of Clinton on both these issues from a year ago:
The facts are these: under Bill Clinton the rate of discharges of gay people from the military doubled; under Bill Clinton, the Defense Of Marriage Act did not only simply enshrine the pre-existing right of some states not to recognize the civil marriages of other states – as he misleadingly states – but barred all of us gay couples from any rights on a federal level; Bill Clinton cited the Defense of Marriage Act in re-election campaign ads in the South.
Even now, he claims that repealing DOMA would lead to more persecution of gays, because more states would allegedly pass anti-gay constitutional amendments. But there are very very few left that could do more to stigmatize gay couples than currently do. And he still resists any defense of gay equality in substance seeing it entirely, as he did in office, as a matter of partisan positioning. Just as he left any mention of any gay people and any gay appointees out of his interminable autobiography, he still will not stand up for gay equality when confronted by the next generation.