Hillary Clinton defended her support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill signed by President Bill Clinton which defined marriage at the federal level as being between a man and a woman, claiming that it was a “defensive action” against a Republican-led push against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage altogether.
“On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed — and there was certainly evidence to support it — is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that,” Clinton said during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday.
Clinton’s position on gay marriage has shifted dramatically over the past two decades, raising questions over what she truly thinks about the issue. And with her comments Friday, she indicated that her public stance is largely guided by politics.
“In a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further,” Clinton said, later agreeing with Maddow that her and her husband’s support for the law — which also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states — was a “defensive action.”
Clinton only came out in favor of legalizing gay marriage at the federal level this year, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Prior to that Clinton said that she supported gay marriage, but thought that individual states should be allowed to choose whether to legalize it. Before staking out that position, however, Clinton said that she backed civil unions.
As a New York senator in Nov. 2002, Clinton said that she opposed legalizing gay marriage for the state, one of the most liberal in the nation.
“Do you think New York state should recognize gay marriage?” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked her during a town hall interview in Albany, N.Y.
“No,” Clinton said without hesitation, a response which elicited boos from the audience.
The Republican political operative group America Rising pointed to a 2000 article from the New York Daily News in which Clinton admitted that if she had been a senator in 1996 she would have supported DOMA.
Politics aside, Clinton has previously said that she personally believes that marriage is defined as a “sacred bond between a man and a woman” — a position that would send a chill up the spine of any gay rights activist.
During a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2004, Clinton extolled the “sanctity of marriage” and “the fundamental bedrock principle that it exists between a man and a woman” which goes back “into the midst of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization.”
Traditional marriages, she said, served a “primary, principal role” of “raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.”
When Bill Clinton signed DOMA on Sept. 21, 1996, he did so just after midnight and with no cameras present. The southern Democrat was not enthusiastic in his support of the law. The White House had said in the months before the signing the bill that it was “gay-baiting.” But the administration defending the decision to sign the bill, saying that Congress had the support to override a Clinton veto.
But Clinton had other political motives, beyond just Washington D.C. vote counting. He was also up for re-election and running against then-Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
And so the Clinton campaign ran ads on Christian radio in the weeks before that election pushing back on Dole’s assertions that Clinton was too liberal on social issues, including gay marriage.
“The President signed the Defense of Marriage Act, supports curfews and school uniforms to teach our children discipline,” went the ad.