WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a law he signed that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Clinton says the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is incompatible with the Constitution. He says he signed the law in 1996 to avoid legislation that would have been even worse for gays.
In an op-ed column appearing in The Washington Post, Clinton writes that American society has changed. He says he now realizes the law discriminates against gays and provides an excuse for others to discriminate, too.
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.
When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.
The Obama administration has stopped defending the law in court, and the Supreme Court is expected to take up a challenge to it later this month.
Separately, the high court is also considering whether California’s gay marriage ban should stand.