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Timeline: Bill Clinton's evolution on gay rights

Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, is now urging the Supreme Court to strike it down.

Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, is now urging the Supreme Court to strike it down.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday, the former president said when he greenlighted DOMA—which defines marriage as between a man and a woman--it was a “very different time,” noting that no states recognized gay marriage. He argues that at the time, legislation to define marriage would fend off a movement that would have been even worse for gay Americans.

How did Clinton go from pro-DOMA to anti-DOMA? Let's take a trip down memory lane...As you can see, the former president has long tried to have it both ways--courting the gay community while also governing as a centrist.

1991: Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, meets with LGBT advocates in Hollywood, making him the first major presidential candidate to court the gay vote openly.

1993: Clinton signs “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which allows gay men and women to serve in the armed services if they keep their sexuality a secret. Gay-rights advocates rip Clinton for not going far enough. (It was the result of a compromise after Clinton failed to overturn an existing ban on gay service members serving in the military).  President Obama eventually ends Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011.

June 1996: Clinton tells LGBT magazine The Advocate, “I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or considered.”

September 1996: Clinton signs DOMA into law, and says in a statement that he “long opposed governmental recognition of same-sex marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position". He adds that the bill “confirms the right of each state to determine its own policy," and that DOMA “should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation.”

 1997: Clinton draws thunderous applause when he speaks to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT equality-rights advocacy group. He is the first president to address the organization, and says he supports a law to protect homosexuals in the workplace.

1999: Clinton is received warmly while speaking at a dinner sponsored by Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality. “The biggest problem we’ve got is the primitive, age-old fear and hatred and dehumanization of the other—people who aren’t like us,” he said.

2004: In his autobiography My Life, Clinton does not mention his role in the gay marriage debate.

2008: Clinton insists that DOMA isn't anti-gay. “It’s a slight rewriting of history…to imply that somehow this was anti-gay when I had more openly gay people in my administration and did more for gay rights and tried to provide an opportunity for gays to serve in the military and did provide an opportunity for gays to serve in civilian positions involving national security that they had been previously been denied to serving in.”

2009: Big moment: Clinton says he’s “basically in support” of gay marriage during an appearance at the Campus Progress National Conference in Washington. “I personally support people doing what they want to do.” He adds, however, that he believes its states’ right to decide the legality of gay marriage.

2011: Clinton urges for the legalization of gay marriage in his adopted home state of New York. In a statement, he says: “For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality.”

2013: In the Washington Post, Clinton writes,  “I now know that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law itself is discriminatory. It should be overturned."

For more on Clinton declaring it's time to overturn DOMA, turn into Hardball at 5 and 7 p.m. ET. We'll have Dee Dee Myers, Clinton's former press secretary and Politico's Maggie Haberman on to weigh in.