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Bernie Sanders Doesn't Share Hillary Clinton's Memory of How DOMA Passed

Bernie Sanders at Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

Bernie Sanders isn't buying Hillary Clinton's version of the history around passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. 

On Saturday, he used what is always considered an important speech in the Democratic primary process — the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa — to counter what Clinton said the day before about passage of the federal ban on same-sex marriage in 1996. 

Clinton said during an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Friday that her husband's signing of DOMA was a "defensive action" meant to stave off a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Sanders was in the House of Representatives at the time and voted against DOMA, which passed on a vote of 342-67.

"In 1996, I faced another fork in the road. A very, very difficult political situation," he said. "It was called the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, brought forth by a Republican-led Congress, and its purpose was clear, to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the law.

"And let us all remember that gay and lesbian rights were not popular then, as they are today. It was a tough vote. And I'm sorry to have to tell you that bill won by an overwhelming majority in the House…. That was not a politically easy vote.

"Now today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying that they voted for one antigay law to stop something worse. That's not the case. There was a small minority in the House opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters, and I am proud that I was one of those members."

Sanders never mentioned Clinton by name, but the pointed comment came as part of a list of comparisons to the former secretary of State — including on the Keystone Pipeline and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement — that cast him as the candidate most likely to stick with principles. And he reiterated the criticism during an appearance today on State of the Union on CNN, reports Politico, saying signing DOMA was always "homophobic" and "was playing off the fears of a lot of Americans."

Republicans proposed DOMA in an election year, and Bill Clinton had already been tripped up by LGBT equality at the start of his term, when he tried to keep a campaign promise to let gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. Instead, the Clinton administration compromised and the nation got "don't ask, don't tell," which led to thousands of dishonorable discharges of men and women who were outed or did not stay in the closet.

So, facing a veto-proof margin of approval for the law in Congress, Bill Clinton signed DOMA after midnight.

Famed LGBT activist David Mixner recalled Bill Clinton's signing of DOMA to The New York Times critically in 2013, after the former president finally decried it as unconstitutional: “He made a political calculation that was an immoral calculation.”

Even the president's former press secretary, Mike McCurry, was blunt in that same article about what had led to Bill Clinton signing DOMA: “His posture was quite frankly driven by the political realities of an election year in 1996.” Then Bill Clinton made things worse with LGBT voters when he touted the signature in campaign ads for his reelection. 

Still, when the former president renounced DOMA in 2013, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, he began it by telling the same version of history that Hillary Clinton did in the Maddow interview. He quoted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court by a group of senators who said they believed DOMA “would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.”

Watch a clip from Bernie Sanders's speech below via CSPAN:

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