Hillary Clinton has taken some heat for supporting Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act and she has defended it by saying that they didn’t really support the law but were fighting a “defensive action” to prevent the passage of a Constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, which would have been much more difficult to change later. Chris Geidner points out that this looks a whole lot like a lie:
Over the past few years, some Democrats — including the Clintons — have offered a new explanation for why they supported the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
The threat of a federal constitutional amendment, these Democrats have argued, motivated them to support DOMA — a law that defined marriage for federal government purposes as between one man and one woman and said states could refuse to recognize same-sex couples’ marriages from others states.
“We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress,” Bill Clinton told an audience in 2009, “to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states.” Four former senators — including Tom Daschle, who made the claim in 2011 — raised the idea in a Supreme Court brief in 2013. Clinton later cited that brief when, in a Washington Post op-ed, he called for the law he signed to be struck down by the court. Hillary Clinton just last week called her husband’s decision to sign DOMA “a defensive action.”
There is no contemporaneous evidence, however, to support the claim that the Clinton White House considered a possible federal constitutional amendment to be a concern, based on a BuzzFeed News review of the thousands of documents released earlier this year by the Clinton Presidential Library about same-sex couples’ marriage rights and the Defense of Marriage Act. In the documents, which include correspondence from a wide array of White House and Justice Department officials, no one even hints that Bill Clinton’s thinking or actions regarding DOMA were animated by the threat of a federal constitutional amendment.
Hillary herself has made this argument, but her people are now backing down from it:
“I think what my husband believed — and there was certainly evidence to support it — is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that,” she told Maddow.
“I was in on some of those discussions, on both ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers, and occasionally I would chime in and talk about, ‘You can’t be serious, you can’t be serious.’ But they were,” Hillary Clinton said. “And so, in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn, that was to prevent going further.”
Maddow pressed here, asking, “It was a defensive action?”
“It was a defensive action,” she replied…
By Monday afternoon, Hillary Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon had pulled back a bit, telling the Huffington Post, “Whatever the context that led to the passage of DOMA nearly two decades ago, Hillary Clinton believes the law was discriminatory and both she and president Clinton urged that it be overturned.”
He did not, however, say whether Clinton stood by her comments — and her version of history.
At her husband’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, however, the history is clear. There was no documented discussion in 1996 within the White House or Justice Department about any momentum for a federal constitutional amendment that DOMA was intended to prevent.
For the most part, White House staffers assumed Clinton would eventually support DOMA once the bill’s introduction was certain. Bill Clinton had already stated his opposition to same-sex couples’ marriage rights. In 1996, Clinton repeatedly marked his approval of talking points on same-sex marriage, as it is referred to in the documents and will be referred to throughout this report, and DOMA; the talking points included his opposition to same-sex marriage and opposition to providing federal benefits to same-sex couples.
If that had been their concern, that certainly would have been discussed in the internal memos going back and forth as they plotted strategy. That this need to go halfway to avoid going all the way was never even mentioned in the discussions at the White House pretty much proves that they’re trying to rewrite history here. It wasn’t a defensive move, it was a political one. Public opinion was strongly against same-sex marriage at the time and it was an election year. But they want to pretend that it was some sort of principled stand when it wasn’t.