Voice for Equality: Bill Clinton

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III, August 19, 1946) served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Clinton was described as a New Democrat and was largely known for the Third Way centrist philosophy of governance that came to epitomize his two terms as president. Clinton presided over the longest period of peace-time economic expansion in American history, which included a balanced budget and a reported federal surplus. He left office with the highest approval rating of any president since World War II. Learn more here.

Most relevant to the LGBT community, however, were two pieces of legislation enacted during his tenure as president: the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy and the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” arose from Clinton trying to fulfill a campaign promise to allow openly homosexual men and women to serve in the armed forces. After a heated and acrimonious debate, Congress implemented the contorted DADT military policy, which Clinton himself later described as "out of whack." Then, amid political pressure brought on by set-backs in his legislative agenda and various personal and professional scandal investigations, Mr. Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. DOMA contained two primary provisions: 1) no state needed to honor marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states, and 2) the federal government defined marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. While many suspected both these pieces of legislation were enacted under political duress and did not reflect Mr. Clinton’s own personal beliefs, the negative impact on the LGBT community was undeniable.

Following a speech on July 8, 2009, a young journalist informally questioned Clinton about a statement he had made a month earlier in which he said his position on marriage equality was “evolving.” The reporter, Michael Tracey, asked him if he would commit to supporting the freedom to marry, to which Clinton replied:

I'm basically in support. I don't think any state should be suffering, and I think all these states that do it should do it. It's not a federal question. I personally support people doing what they want to do. I think it's wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that. That's what I think.

Then on September 15, 2009, Clinton sent the following statement to be read at the introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) led by Congressman Jerrold Nadler:

I want to thank Congressman Nadler for his leadership on this issue, and Reps. Baldwin, Polis, Conyers, Lewis, Velazquez and Lee for introducing the Respect for Marriage Act in the House of Representatives. Throughout my life, I have opposed discrimination of any kind. When the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, gay couples could not marry anywhere in the United States or the world for that matter. Thirteen years later, the fabric of our country has changed and so should the policy. [Link]

"President Clinton’s support for the freedom to marry has evolved over time, and shows the power we each have when we talk about why marriage matters to the people we know and help them rise to fairness," said Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry. "President Clinton has grappled with this question for a long time, and clearly he, like the country, has come a long way since fear and politics brought about such discriminatory measures as the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that he signed and now has moved past."

Freedom to Marry salutes President Bill Clinton, who's thinking evolved, as a Voice for Equality!

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