Bill Clinton does about-face on Doma, and good on him


Former President Bill Clinton made an historic appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn a law that he signed, saying he now believes it to be unconstitutional. Image: quinn.anya/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Former President Bill Clinton is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which he signed into law, essentially barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Flip-flopping on Doma?

As the Supreme Court prepares to take another look at the law later this month, Clinton says he now believes it to be unconstitutional. Under it, he said, “same-sex couples, who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia, are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples.”

Remember when George W. Bush chided John Kerry for being a “flip-flopper” when he changed his position on the Iraq war after more information came to light? In the real world, we call that “changing your mind,” and it’s what intelligent people do when they are confronted with new evidence that a previous position was an incorrect one.

Bill Clinton, who signed the DOMA act into law in 1996, will no doubt face similar charges for his recent remarks. But Clinton’s evolution to his new position mirrors that of the nation, and therefore it is the right thing to do.

According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, “In the past couple of years, 10 courts, with judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, have ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional.”

Signing DOMA a political move

Clinton said that he signed the DOMA law in 1996 because, at the time, not doing so would have opened the door for anti-gay legislation that would have been far harder to undo. It was, the former president said, a move to abort a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages entirely.

Re-evaluating DOMA

Later this month, the Supreme Court is expected to review the case of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a New York couple who were together for more than 40 years and legally married in 2007. Spyer passed away later, and Windosr was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes. If the federal government recognized their marriage, she would have been exempt from the taxes.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court will also be taking a look at the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriages.

Unprecedented move

Former President Clinton’s move is historically unprecedented. A president has never, in my recollection, done an about-face on a piece of legislation that he signed into law, branding it “unconstitutional.”


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