Bill Clinton & DOMA: His Biggest Regret ?

518px-Bill_Clinton_visit_to_Los_AlamosDOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) was signed into law on September 21, 1996 by President Bill Clinton without cameras present at 1:00 AM.  Surely not his proudest moment.  He had little choice.  It was politically expedient to do so less than two months before the general election.  To use the veto pen on such a contentious and divisive issue could have been beyond detrimental.  Why rile up a GOP base and risk defeat?  Surely, no one would have done anything differently.

In order to better understand what this piece of legislation was intended to do, one needs look no further than two sections of the bill. Section 2 of DOMA allows states to establish policies regarding the rights of same sex couples.  Section 3 states that the federal government has the power to over-ride the same state’s decisions to allow equal access to certain federal laws and programs.

Under this law same sex couples are not granted the equal access to health care programs that straight couples take as a given.  The Family Leave Act, allowing employees to take unpaid leaves of absence for medical or familial reasons, was denied gay couples.  Certain benefits  ‘traditional’ couples take for granted were again denied to same sex couples such as no access to Social Security benefits after the death of a spouse or the inability to file taxes jointly.  No green card is given to the spouse of someone from another country if you are of the same sex.  These are examples of the archaic nature of this legislation.

While the GOP insists it is trying to save the sanctity of marriage, neglecting to mention the ever rising divorce rates among straight marriages, we know otherwise.  It is an embarrassing pander to their base.  To deny the same rights to citizens is as abhorrent a stance as any that might exist.  We are not talking about special allowances for any group, simply equal accessibility
to the same benefits that are afforded the rest of society, without question.

When President Clinton signed DOMA into law it was not based on his moral standing or beliefs.  It was politically motivated and, at the time, thought to be quite a shrewd move.  The outcry was swift however, and at times downright brutal. Long time supporters turned their backs on him.  Supporters of equal rights were harsh in their criticisms, as were left leaning publications.  He was aware it would happen and immediately after winning re-election went about mending fences and salving wounds.  He nominated the first openly gay man to an ambassadorship, James Hormel went over to the State Department almost immediately, and then he spoke before a large gathering of the HRC (Human Rights Council) a now powerful lobby group that fights for gays rights as well as other civil rights battles.  He worked feverishly to repair the damage he knew that would be caused.

Fast forward 17 years.  Mr. Clinton did something that is extremely rare in Presidential politics.  On March 17th of this year he wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post urging the Supreme Court to overturn a piece of legislation that he made into law with the early morning signing.  Close associates to Clinton said that he was tortured on the matter and thought of the issue to the point of losing sleep.  Long time Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen said, “……he was personally embarrassed and remorseful…  It makes him uncomfortable that something he’s responsible for has caused so much pain to so many people he genuinely cares about.”

The man did what few people, let alone politicians, do….. admitted he was wrong.  He said as much when interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN, saying, “I had all these gay friends and I was hung up about it.  And I decided I was wrong.”  What a blast of fresh air that was.  A President saying he was human and indeed mistakes were possible from the highest office in the land.  That he had erred.  He did something that at its root  went against everything he believed and he held close as a truth.  Quite an admission from such a lofty place should be admired and celebrated. It takes a good man to admit when they’re wrong and Mr. Clinton stood up and took ownership of it.

By saying in his op-ed piece that the law he signed was discriminatory and should be struck down by the SCOTUS, Mr. Clinton essentially threw himself on his sword by sacrificing legacy for what is right and a greater good for all citizens, the inalienable right to freedom and equal rights, for not just segments of society, but for all.

Well done President Clinton.  I have always liked and admired you, sir, but after reading about this legislation and your reaction to it you have elevated my opinion of you two fold.