Hillary Clinton Defends Her 'Evolution' to Support Marriage Equality

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com June 13 2014 2:30 PM ET

Just because Hillary Clinton wasn't the first American politician to come out for marriage equality doesn't mean her evolution was a "political calculation," the former Secretary of State told NPR Thursday.

In a lengthy exchange that turned tense at times, NPR correspondent Terry Gross pressed Clinton on the specifics of her personal evolution toward supporting the freedom to marry, asking if Clinton didn't come out in support before March 2013 because "the public wasn't ready in regards to LGBT rights?"

"What's it like when you're in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage that you actually believe in?" Gross asked the presumptive 2016 presidential candidate. "And you obviously feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn't support it — correct me if I'm reading it wrong."

"Well, I think you're reading it very wrong," Clinton told Gross. "I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, you know, just because you're a politician doesn't mean you're not a thinking human being. And you gather information. You think through positions. You're not 100 percent set — thank goodness — you're constantly reevaluating where you stand. That was true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states. And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state-by-state and in fact that is what is working."

Gross persisted, however, asking Clinton whether her personal views evolved along with public opinion, or if public opinion shifted, allowing her to state her authentic views. 

"I think that I'm an American," said Clinton, laughing. "I think we have all evolved. And it's been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations."

That's when Gross interrupted Clinton, acknowledging the seismic shift in public opinion but also noting that many people supported the idea of marriage equality in the 1990s. 

"To be fair, Terry, not that many," retorted Clinton. "Were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement. But the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street, who deserved to have the same rights as they did. Or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast, by historical terms, social, political, and legal transformation, and we ought to celebrate that, instead of plowing old ground, where in fact, a lot of people — the vast majority of people — have been moving forward. Maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless, we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country is solidly established. Although there will be places — Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle."

Media Matters has a full transcript of the seven-minute exchange, including Clinton's testy closing remarks, after Gross said she was attempting to clarify the former first lady's views. 

"No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify," Clinton said. "I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed [to gay marriage], and now I am in favor, and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we're making."

Listen to the conversation on marriage equality here, or hear the full 45-minute interview at NPR.