Bill Clinton Urges Supreme Court To Reverse Federal Man-Woman Marriage Act He Signed In 1996


In a Thursday opinion piece published in The Washington Post, former Democratic President Bill Clinton called on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) he signed into law 17 years ago.

The Act decreed there would be no Federal protection for any State or political subset in the States whose governments might decide to recognize marriage as a union between same-sex partners. In other words, the Act didn’t ban gay marriage, but it guaranteed that any such marriage ordained by cities, counties and States would be purely civil in nature and that it wouldn’t be recognized by other States or by the Federal government. It secured, for gay “spouses,” the legal protections and obligations afforded anybody who’s going steady.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two cases dealing with same-sex marriage later this month, and could possibly overturn all or part of the Act. Such a move wouldn’t legalize same-sex marriage, but it would hit the reset button for States where same-sex marriage has been legalized since DOMA passed in 1996. And it’s unclear whether it would automatically validate the marriages of those who’ve already been married under State same-sex marriage laws.

Clinton argued that States’ recent efforts to recognize same-sex marriage reflect the conflicts of a very different Nation, both in law and in culture, than the America of the mid-90s:

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…[M]any 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…

…As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.

The 42nd President isn’t the first voice from the political Left to send a message to the Supreme Court before it hears the two cases. The Administration of President Barack Obama filed an amicus brief last month repudiating the present lack of government benefits for same-sex partners. And the 44th President — yes, that’s Obama — had a few things to say on the topic at his second inaugural in January.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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