Former President Bill Clinton won the first Advocate for Change Award Saturday night in Los Angeles at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Awards. During a speech at the 24th annual ceremony, he discussed the controversial issue of marriage equality.
“We have a new bigotry in America. Apparently we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us about anything. All these people around the world that have chosen a closed fist over an open hand…that’s about them, that’s not about the issue at hand or about other people,” the former president said before accepting his award. “Whenever we turn away from treating someone else with the dignity, and honor, and respect we would like accorded to ourselves, we have to face the fact that it’s about us.”
He cited his daughter Chelsea, her gay friends, and her husband as role models for treating other people with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation. Clinton thanked his daughter, who presented his award, for leading him to support the marriage equality law in New York and to oppose North Carolina’s denial of marriage equality.
“Over the years I was forced to confront the fact that people who oppose equal rights for gays in the marriage-sphere are basically acting out of concerns for their own identity, not out of respect for anyone else,” he said.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in March for and against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Clinton, who signed DOMA into law in 1996 during his re-election campaign, made public his reversal on gay marriage last month when he opposed the legislation in a Washington Post op-ed. A decision about the fate of the law might not be made until June.
“I want to keep working on this until not only DOMA is no longer the law of the land, but until all people, no matter where they live, can marry the people they love,” he said at Saturday’s event, hosted by actress Drew Barrymore at the Marriott Hotel. “We have all learned in our inter-dependent society–in our increasing inter-dependent world–that whenever people anywhere are denied any rights, it diminishes us all.”
The GLAAD Awards pay tribute to outstanding representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
“The whole story of the life of our country, of the more perfect Union,” Clinton said, “is to widen the circle of opportunity, to strengthen and enhance the reach of freedom, and to cement deeper bonds of community as it gets ever more diverse.”