Hillary Clinton is under heavy criticism from gay rights activists and others familiar with the Bill Clinton White House for revising the history of her and the former president’s support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Clinton defended her husband’s Sept. 21, 1996 signing of the bill on Friday, implying that it was a noble effort undertaken to prevent Republicans from pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban 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 told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
But those who were familiar with deliberations in the Clinton White House say that that’s not what happened. Clinton’s presidential papers also show no evidence that fear of a constitutional amendment factored into support for the bill. Instead, Clinton signed DOMA when it landed on his desk — it passed both houses of Congress with ease — because it was politically convenient and because he was publicly opposed to gay marriage.
And though Clinton and his aides clearly believed that the bill was ginned up by Republicans as a wedge issue, he touted his support for the law in Christian radio ads leading up to the 1996 election. (RELATED: Hillary Says Her Support For Anti-Gay Marriage Law Was A ‘Defensive Action’)
Longtime Clinton surrogate Hilary Rosen set the record straight on Twitter.
— Hilary Rosen (@hilaryr) October 25, 2015
The Washington Blade, a publication that focuses on LGBT issues, pointed to a 2013 op-ed from Elizabeth Birch, who served as executive director of the Human Rights Campaign when DOMA was signed into law.
“In 1996, I was President of the Human Rights Campaign, and there was no real threat of a Federal Marriage Amendment,” Birch wrote after Bill Clinton penned an op-ed of his own claiming that he signed DOMA in order to appease Republicans who sought a constitutional amendment.
When Mike McCarry, Clinton’s press secretary, discussed his former boss’ decision to sign DOMA, he also did not mention fear of an amendment.
“His posture was quite frankly driven by the political realities of an election year in 1996,” McCarry told The New York Times in 2013.
A Federal Marriage Amendment didn’t become a political reality until six years after DOMA was passed. Republicans adopted the amendment as part of the party’s platform in 2004.
Another gay rights activist David Mixner called out the Clintons’ revisionism on Twitter.
— David Mixner (@DavidMixner) October 25, 2015
Clinton’s main rival in her current White House bid, Vermont Sen. [crscore]Bernie Sanders[/crscore], also pushed back on her new claims about DOMA.
The Defense of Marriage Act was simply homophobic legislation. pic.twitter.com/CtTIgnsvGd
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 25, 2015
The shift is typical Clinton politicking. In 2000, Hillary Clinton, then a New York Senate candidate, said that she would have voted in support of DOMA if she were in the Senate in 1996. In 2002, as a New York senator, she said she opposed gay marriage in that liberal state. And she only recently came out in support of legalizing gay marriage at the federal level.
Now, she claims to be a champion of LGBT rights.
NEXT PAGE: ‘I Do Not Believe In Gay Marriage’
A review of Bill Clinton’s presidential papers also indicates that fear of a GOP-led push to amend the constitution does not appear to have factored into his DOMA decision.
In a May 10, 1996 memo, White House aides George Stephanopoulos, Jack Quinn and Marsha Scott advised Clinton that he should sign the law if it landed on his desk in order to remain consistent in his opposition to gay marriage.
“Given your stated and longstanding opposition to gay marriage, we believe there would not be a substantive basis for you not to sign the proposed legislation if it were to be adopted by Congress,” they wrote.
“It is therefore our recommendation that you should sign this legislation if it is enacted,” the memo continued.
The aides were also aware that Clinton’s support for DOMA would not be popular with the LGBT community.
“Assuming your approval of this approach, Marsha, George and others will be talking to key leaders in the gay and lesbian community to explain your position and why it is necessary for you to take this action. We can expect that many gays and lesbians will be hurt, if not offended, by this approach to the proposed legislation.”
On May 10, 1996, Rosen wrote a memo of her own suggesting that the administration do everything it could to prevent Clinton from having to take a position on the bill.
“It is election year politics designed to put the President on the defensive,” she wrote.
But if the bill did pass Congress, Rosen suggested that Clinton state “I do not believe in gay marriage. I understand that there are some legislative proposals in Congress and in some States dealing with this issue and we are studying them.”