BY Kerry Eleveld
September 25 2009 8:30 PM ET
Bill Clinton on Friday told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he had changed his position on same-sex marriage, a move that some LGBT advocates say will push the discussion forward nationally.
"I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it," Clinton said, in his most extensive and affirmative statements to date on the subject. Clinton had previously said his views on the matter were "evolving" and later added that he was "basically in support" of marriage equality.
Clinton said during the interview that he realized he was "hung up about the word" marriage.
"I was wrong about that," he said. "I just had too many gay friends. I saw their
relationships. I just decided I couldn’t, I had an untenable position."
Richard Socarides, a special assistant and LGBT adviser to Clinton during his administration, said the remarks could help create a shift in the political winds that might reach the courts.
"Many of the lawyers I talk to don't believe that the Defense of Marriage Act is going to be repealed by Congress in the next three to four years," he said, adding that most attorneys see the legal challenges to DOMA as a more likely route to overturning the law.
"Whether it's the Olson/Boies lawsuit or the Gill case, the issue is going to be, between now and the time they reach the Supreme Court, whether there's enough of a change in the political will on this subject -- have enough hearts and minds changed?" Socarides said, referring to a Proposition 8 challenge from California and a DOMA challenge from Massachusetts. "The fact that there’s a former sitting president -- the guy who is responsible for the law -- who now says that his position was ‘untenable’ will be the best thing for that case."
Socarides added that he believes Clinton's choice of words were intentional.
"Nothing comes out of him that isn't thoughtful and deliberate," he said. "Did he consider that it would someday be used in a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that DOMA was unconstitutional? Yes, I'm sure he knew that."
Full transcript of the Friday interview below:
Anderson Cooper: You said you recently changed your mind on same-sex marriage. I’m wondering what you mean by that. Do you now believe that gay people should have full rights to civil marriage nationwide?
Bill Clinton: I do. I think that, well let me get back to the last point, the last word. I believe historically, for two hundred and something years, marriage has been a question left to the states and the religious institutions. I still think that’s where it belongs. That is, I was against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and I still think that the American people should be able to play this out in debates.
But me, Bill Clinton personally, I changed my position. I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it. I have long favored the right of gay couples to adopt children.
What made you change your mind? Was there one thing?
I think, what made me change my mind, I looked up and said look at all of this stuff you’re for. I’ve always believed that -- I’ve never supported all the moves of a few years ago to ban gay couples from adoption. Because there are all these kids out there looking for a home. And the standard on all adoption cases is, what is the best interest of the child?
And there are plenty of cases where the best interest of the child is to let the gay couple take them and give them a loving home. So I said, you know, I realized that I was over 60 years old, I grew up at a different time, and I was hung up about the word.
I had all these gay friends, I had all these gay couple friends, and I was hung up about it. And I decided I was wrong.
That our society has an interest in coherence and strength and commitment and mutually reinforcing loyalties, then if gay couples want to call their union marriage and a state agrees, and several have now, or a religious body will sanction it, and I don’t think a state should be able to stop a religious body from saying it, I don’t think the rest of us should get in the way of it.
I think it’s a good thing not a bad thing. And I just realized that, I was, probably for, maybe just because of my age and the way I’ve grown up, I was wrong about that. I just had too many gay friends. I saw their relationships. I just decided I couldn’t, I had an untenable position.
Watch the video here.