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 even bragged about it during his re-election bid.
But today, Clinton comes full circle, writing a Washington Post op-ed, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to undo the mistake he made in his first term.
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.
Supreme Court arguments are set for March 27. A ruling is expected by the summer.