In the past day, President Clinton has shared his perspective that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. I headed the largest LGBT advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, when DOMA was signed into law in 1996. So why don't I feel grateful?
I guess it is because DOMA was never constitutional. I guess it is because in the middle of my testimony before Congress on the constitutionality of this horrible law, the Clinton Justice Department, then headed by Janet Reno, had a letter delivered to the committee stating that, in the opinion of the Justice Department, DOMA was constitutional. (I was cut off mid-sentence as one of the more extreme house members read it aloud into the room with glee.)
I guess it is because, beyond signing the bill into law, the 1996 Clinton campaign decided to run ads on Christian radio bragging that DOMA had become the law of the land. I guess it is because, even after all these years, it still makes me sick that people like Harold Ickes, then a key adviser to Clinton, threatened to leave the ads on the air if I dared to claim victory for demanding they come down. Plenty of people hated the decision to run those ads on Christian radio -- people like George Stephanopoulos, I am told. But it was the president himself who wanted to run them and asked in anger whether he had any say in the matter.
I know I should shut up. Shut up and be grateful we are making progress. But I guess I am attached to an accurate historic record.
DOMA made us feel like our guts had been kicked out. And just because it was a cheap, mean pre-election trick cooked up at a conservative think tank does not excuse the historic record. If it was wrong, it is wrong for all time. I don't think you can say "it was a different time" as President Clinton did in explaining why he signed it into law. True leadership is timeless.
President Clinton took DOMA out of play by announcing quickly he would support it and signed it into law near midnight on Sept. 21, 1996. Dick Morris later said it was the worst advice he ever gave President Clinton.
The Clinton campaign went on to use the LGBT community like a cash machine for reelection. And we worked hard to keep the community together in support of the reelection of President Clinton. We actually thought we could get something accomplished in the second term. I was told some years later that there was never any intention of putting energy into passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) that has eluded passage to this day.
I am actually in awe of President Clinton's ability to distill complexity into common sense messages. No one can explain our common humanity better that he. So that is why I expect more. Call me old-fashioned, but couldn't he just say: 1) I was wrong and 2) I am sorry.