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Rachel Maddow: 'There Is a Difference' Between Sanders, Clinton on LGBT Rights

Bernie Sanders and Rachel Maddow

Hillary Clinton's version of what happened when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed by her husband took another sharp jab on Monday night.

In another The Rachel Maddow Show interview, this time with opponent Bernie Sanders, the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination was called out in definitive terms for revising history. Perhaps more importantly, Maddow herself told viewers that the contrast between Clinton and Sanders on this point is real.

"There is a difference now, I have to say, between presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton," said Maddow into the camera, having interviewed Clinton on Friday. 

"Even though there is no issue now, no difference now, between them in terms of what policies they support now, there is a difference between them as candidates," she said, "as to whether or not President Bill Clinton signing that antigay law, whether that was an antigay and lamentable mistake that never should have happened, or whether — as Secretary Clinton argued here on Friday night — it was actually a well meaning effort, a well meaning effort to head off a greater harm that would have been done had President Bill Clinton not signed that discriminatory bill."

Clinton had told Maddow on Friday that her husband signed DOMA — which banned same-sex marriage recognition by the federal government — as a "defensive action" meant to stave off momentum for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Since then, Sanders used a major speech in Iowa to call that "trying to rewrite history." And activists including David Mixner, Michelangelo Signorile and Hilary Rosen publicly disputed the notion that DOMA was a stop-gap against a constitutional amendment. In fact, DOMA is remembered more often as a political calculation meant to bolster President Clinton's reelection chances. The signing was even touted in ads by President Clinton at the time.

"It bothered me to hear Secretary Clinton saying, 'Well, you know, what DOMA was really about was to prevent something even worse,'" Sanders told Maddow on Monday. "That just wasn't true."

In Monday's interview, Sanders explained why it's important to get the history right, saying, "We live in a tough world and leadership counts." As one of only 67 people in the House to vote against DOMA, Sanders said, "It is important to stand up when the going is tough."

Sanders has taken some criticism for calling Clinton out at all, since it seems like a break from his usual tendency not to attack his opponent. Sanders viewed his comments as a contrast, instead of an attack. 

"What the American people and Democrats have to know: Which candidate historically has had the guts to stand up to powerful people and take difficult decisions?"

The interview was prefaced by an intimate personal story by Maddow, who talked about being a 20-year-old AIDS activist. ("It just felt like the AIDS epidemic was roaring through the gay community, roaring through my community," she said.) Her own story made it clear how unusual it was for Bernie Sanders to stand up for gays and lesbians in 1996. "Those were nasty, nasty times," concluded Maddow. 

But the interview wasn't entirely positive for Sanders. Maddow followed up the DOMA conversation with several questions to the Vermont senator about why in 2006 he said Vermont shouldn't move ahead with full marriage equality. "Not right now," he's quoted as having said at the time.

"The state was torn in a way that I had never seen the state torn," Sanders noted of the political climate after Vermont became the first state in the nation to pass civil unions. "My view was, give us a little bit of time."

Maddow asked if that's the same kind of "political pragmatism" that Clinton is being called out for on DOMA. But Sanders denied that's what Clinton is being criticized for at all.

"You can argue that… 'I don't agree with DOMA politically but I have to do it,' but you can't say that DOMA was passed in order to prevent something worse," he said. "That is just not the case."

The Clinton campaign on Monday issued a statement about the controversy to the Huffington Post and tried moving conversation forward without backtracking on anything Clinton has said.

"Whatever the context that led to the passage of DOMA nearly two decades ago, Hillary Clinton believes the law was discriminatory and both she and President Clinton urged that it be overturned," spokesman Brian Fallon told the Huffington Post, in an article that reviews the history and sides largely with the Sanders recollection. "As President, Hillary Clinton will continue to fight to secure full and equal rights for LGBT Americans who, despite all our progress, can still get married on a Saturday and fired on a Monday just because of who they are and who they love."

Watch the interview below:

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