Bill Clinton Says Defense of Marriage Act “Incompatible with Our Constitution”

President Bill Clinton DOMA

The only thing worse than having a president that picks and chooses when to uphold the Constitution and the law(s) of the land; and having a president that repeatedly out-maneuvers his Republican counterparts; is having another (yet former) president – just as situationally principled and no less politically crafty – emerge from time-to-time to remind the American People just how badly we’ve been duped, for decades.

Thursday night, President Bill Clinton published an op-ed in the Washington Post wherein he said he has “come to believe” DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) – which he signed into law in 1996 – is “incompatible with our Constitution” and contrary to the “principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality, and justice for all.”

WASHINGTON POST:  In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Although that was only 17 years ago, it was a very different time. In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction. Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian. As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its passage “would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.” It was under these circumstances that DOMA came to my desk, opposed by only 81 of the 535 members of Congress.

On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.

Because Section 3 of the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, same-sex couples who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples. Among other things, these couples cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees. Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws.

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.

We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.

Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path. We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’ ”

The answer is of course and always yes. In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

What can we really learn form this?  I say absolutely nothing.  At least not anything we didn’t already know.  It just supports the hypothesis I – and countless others – have had for quite some time.  The only reason Clinton and his fellow Democrats supported DOMA in the first place was to throw social conservatives off the scent of federal action.  Essentially, by appeasing social conservatives by taking federal recognition out of the equation, he bought the same sex marriage movement nearly two decades to take the issue “to the states” and avoid a potential constitutional amendment.

While that sounds a lot like taking multiple blows to the face just for the hope of landing a knockout, it was really quite the brilliant political calculation.  A rope-a-dope Clinton style.

Let conservatives protect the integrity of “Marriage” at the federal level, and in their home states.  Let them act free of the consequences and repercussion of sister states passing measures (or acting through their respective court systems).  And let the tide change as generations become more comfortable addressing the issue.  Then once the Overton Window of opportunity presents itself, come out and say DOMA was unconstitutional from the word go; and take the issue to the nation’s Highest Court.

Needless to say, his reversal on DOMA has received quite a bit of praise/pushback – from the Right and Left…


Paul Mirengoff at Powerline says “It’s Too Bad We Can’t Impeach Bill Clinton Again”

“Clinton appears to be saying that he signed DOMA to head-off a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But that’s no excuse for signing unconstitutional legislation. After all, Clinton took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Unfortunately, oaths have never had much meaning for Clinton.

Clinton also says “I know now that the law is discriminatory.” But he also must know that not all “discriminatory” laws are unconstitutional.”

The Maddow Blog:

“When it comes to political figures who’ve evolved on gay rights since serving in public office, few have traveled quite as far as former President Bill Clinton. It was, after all, the former Democratic president who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and evenbragged about it during his re-election bid.

But today, Clinton comes full circle.”

The New Civil Rights Movement:

“This past December, in “Dear President Clinton,” New York Times’ op-ed writer Frank Bruni aptly asked, “Where’s your apology for signing the Defense of Marriage Act?”

Clinton is asking the Supreme Court to reverse him — in a way, to recognize the country’s changes and “veto” what he himself should have.

But we’ve never gotten an apology.

Aren’t we owed at least that?”

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post also wonders why “Sorry” wasn’t part of Clinton’s reversal?

PJ Tatler:

“In typical Clinton fashion, he goes on to blame the Republicans for something he did, saying that he was forced into it because some of the counter measures were “draconian” (yes, even Rhodes Scholars lack originality when beating dead horses).

But if there’s anything we’ve learned about this particular topic in recent months, it’s that “evolving” is all the rage. After all, in less than a year, President Obama has gone from opposed, to being a states’ rights guy to now favoring full-on federal intervention. At this rate, he may be in a gay marriage by Christmas.”


I must admit.  The Right-leaning blogging world’s suspiciously quiet on Clinton’s reversal.  Aside from a few commentators highlighting the ridiculousness of Clinton signing into law a piece of legislation he believed to be unconstitutional, there Right appears to be noticeably taking a pass on this one.

I won’t.

First off.  Anything Bill Clinton – or “The Clintons” – do is calculated.  There’s an angle.  If Hillary is going to claim the nomination in 2016, she can’t be to the right of her ever-evolving predecessor.  Husband Bill signing into law a piece of legislation that took recognition of same sex marriage out of the federal conversation for 17 yeras would have been damning.  And reversing course after the Supreme Court decides DOMA’s fate would have been too little too late.

Regarding DOMA, without getting into a lengthy discussion we’ll save for a Prop 8 discussion, I do believe the Supreme Court will ultimately strike down the law rendering Clinton’s reversal both convenient and timely.  While I’m certainly not a Supreme Court scholar, I can see either Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas or both writing a concurring opinion from an originalist perspective that could potentially throw off the balance of the Court; and giving us a Roberts-Affordable-Care-Act-like compromise opinion that upholds part of Prop 8, but strikes down the DOMA.

My personal view is the same as it’s always been.  I share the view that “Marriage” was meant to be a matter left to States, or the People.  I don’t take that view because I think the Founders saw “Marriage” as an issue of little concern; but because I believe they saw it as an issue of the highest import.  I believe their collectively skeptical view of government led them to omit “Marriage” because it was so important that they wanted government as far away from the sacred institution as was imaginable.  What I don’t think they could have imagined at the time of our Founding was that more than 200 years later we would have set up a society so full of loopholes, incentives, restrictions, and red tape that the federal government would be forced to have a hand in that decidedly personal relationship.

From a practical perspective, I have always taken the position that a conservative should champion and be an advocate for stable and productive families and communities.  They foster economic growth and help decrease the burden on government at every level.  And while my personal view of “Marriage” is a sacred promise and bond between a man and a woman, I see no reason for the institution to be restrictive or exclusive – beyond the bounds of one’s own faith.  In a broader sense, I see no reason for a man and a man or a woman and a woman not to be allowed to marry.  I cannot fathom being told by a majority or a minority of any group that I cannot do something that causes no harm to others.  Accordingly, I could never advocate doing the same thing to homosexual men or women that want to marry.

That said, I do believe “Marriage” was meant to be a matter reserved to the States, or the People.  I say that without even an ounce of hesitation.  I respect the right of California to act in its best interest just as I hope they respect the right of my state to do so as well.  I believe when our Founders created this great nation, they envisioned a diverse group of people united around a common set of beliefs.  But part of that belief set was the principle that Virginians were Virginians and Pennsylvanians were Pennsylvanians.  We were united by and protected from government by an enumerated set of Rights.  Marriage was not on that list.  And I have yet to see cause for its inclusion; and would worry greatly about the consequences of this or any government treading on such scared ground.

That may not go “far enough” for some that see this issue different than I.  It may go too far for some that share the rest of my political views.  For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly content disappointing both.

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  4 comments for “Bill Clinton Says Defense of Marriage Act “Incompatible with Our Constitution”

  1. Klein
    March 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm


    Redefined this. Marriage is union between a man and a woman blessed by God. “Marriage Redefined?” Is that your “angle?”

    • March 9, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Wow. Really put a lot of thought into that one. You got me. Big fat RINO.

      Just a thought. If “Marriage is union between a man and a woman blessed by God” (a point I agree with personally); where’s government fit into that equation? Somewhere between woman and blessed? Or perhaps, blessed by government?

      And no, I’m not looking to “redefine” every issue in American politics. What I would like to do is offer an opinion from a perspective rarely offered by bumper sticker laundry list republicans. On Marriage, specifically, I just struggle to see how several traditionally “republican” positions square with one another – and with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.

      I suppose you can go back to calling me a RINO now… Have at it. And thanks for the comment btw. Visitors are always welcome around here.

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