Former president Bill Clinton was interrupted by a question pertaining to the Defense of Marriage Act and the "don't ask, don't tell" law on Thursday evening in Pittsburgh as he delivered the keynote address at the Netroots Nation conference. Gay blogger Lane Hudson stood in the convention center to ask, "Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and 'don't ask, don't tell' right now?"
Clinton, who suggested Hudson should take his behavior to a congressional town hall meeting on health care reform, asked him to sit down, and then he addressed the question. Watch the video of his response below.
"You wanna talk about 'don't ask, don't tell,' I'll tell you exactly what happened," Clinton said. "You couldn't deliver me any support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the Congress. Now, that's the truth," he said to significant applause.
Calling 2009 "a different world" from the 1990s, Clinton cited the change in public opinion to support repeal of DADT, and the reversed position of John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in 2007 expressed his support for lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.
The president also acknowledged his "regret" for how DADT was implemented in 1993.
"Let me also say something that never got sufficient publicity at the time. When Gen. Colin Powell came up with this 'don't ask, don't tell' it was defined while he was chairman much differently than it was implemented. He said, 'If you will accept this, here is what we'll do. We will not pursue anyone, any military members out of uniform will be free to march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings, whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives, none of this will be a basis for dismissal.' It all turned out to be a fraud [due to] enormous reaction against it among the middle-level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So nobody regrets how this was implemented even any more than I do. But the Congress also put that into law by a veto-proof majority and many of your friends voted for that, believing the explanation about how it would be eliminated. So, I hated what happened. I regret it. But I didn't have, I didn't think at the time, any choice if I wanted any progress to be made at all."
Clinton concluded with an explanation of why he signed DOMA, which he said he "didn't like."
"Now, while we're at it, let me just say one thing about DOMA, since youaEUR| The reason I signed DOMA was, and I said when I signed it, that I thought the question of whether gays should marry should be left out to states and the religious organizations, and if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage they ought to. We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the Levin referendum much later in 2004, in the election, which the Republicans put on the ballot, to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it's obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress presenting that. The president doesn't even get to veto that. It's the Congress that can refer constitutional amendments to the states. I didn't like signing DOMA, and I certainly didn't like the constraints it would put on benefits, and I've done everything I could, and I am proud to say that the State Department was the first federal department to restore benefits to gay partners in the Obama administration, and I think we are going forward in the right direction now for federal employees, and I don't like that either. I don't like the DOMA bill."