The always-insightful Bill Clinton took to the Washington Post yesterday with an impassioned editorial calling on the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which he signed in 1996. The constitutionality of DOMA will be considered by the court on March 27, when the SCOTUS reviews two cases involving same-sex marriage — one from California and another from New York.
Clinton said he signed DOMA, which defines legal marriage as a union between one man and one woman, at a time when the country’s attitude toward gay marriage was different, with only 81 of the 535 members of Congress voting against the bill. He cites a recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court that says the passage of DOMA helped head off what was then a serious movement “to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.”
When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.
We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.
Saying that America is at a crossroads with respect to the civil rights of gays and lesbians. Clinton adds: “[W]hile our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values.”