October 24, 2015 at 3:56 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Clinton says ‘Don’t Ask,’ DOMA were ‘defensive’ actions
Hillary Clinton is interviewed on "The Rachel Maddow Show." (Image courtesy MSNBC.)

Hillary Clinton is interviewed on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” (Image courtesy MSNBC.)

Former President Bill Clinton may have signed into law two anti-gay measures — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act — that took years for the LGBT community to undo, but Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling the initiatives “defensive” actions.

Hillary Clinton made the remarks Friday evening during a wide-ranging interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Maddow pointed out those measures stayed in place until they were lifted during the Obama administration and asked the candidate if her approach to civil rights would be different from her spouse’s.

The 2016 hopeful said her “take on it is slightly different” and sought to give context to the situations in which former President Clinton signed the anti-gay measures into law.

For DOMA, the candidate said her spouse signed the measure into law because in 1996 there was enough “political momentum” in the Republican-controlled Congress to enact a more draconian measure that would have amended the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage entirely.

“And there had to be some way to stop that,” Hillary Clinton continued. “There wasn’t a rational argument because I was in on some of those discussions on both ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would chime in and talk about, ‘You can’t be serious. You can’t be serious. But they were.”

When Hillary Clinton called DOMA “a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further,” Maddow chimed in by asking if the candidate would call it a defensive action. Hillary Clinton apparently liked the term, calling DOMA a “defensive action.”

“The culture rapidly changed so that now what was totally anathema to political forces — they have ceded, they no longer are fighting except on a local level and rear guard action,” Clinton added. “And with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, it’s settled.”

For “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hillary Clinton pointed out former President Clinton before he agreed to the legislation campaigned in 1992 in favor of openly gay military service.

When Maddow recalled the political firestorm that ensued over the idea, Hillary Clinton recalled, “It was the most astonishing over reaction by the military, by the Congress. I remember being on the edge of one of those conversations and so ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ again became a defensive line.”

“I’m not in any way excusing them; I’m explaining them,” Clinton added.

Maddow had also asked about Bill Clinton signing in 1994 the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act, which included a federal “three strike” provision the former president himself has acknowledged made mass incarceration worse.

Hillary Clinton said the situation with that law is the same, saying it “was the result of a lot of reaction, particularly from poor communities, communities of color to the horrific crime rates of the 1980s.”

“There was just a consensus across every community that something had to be done,” Clinton said. “That went too far. The first speech I gave in this campaign was about mass incarceration and about reform of policing practices.”

Hillary Clinton summed up action on those laws by her spouse as a choice of the lesser of two evils at the time of his administration.

“I think that sometimes as a leader in a democracy you are confronted with two bad choices and it is not an easy position and you have to try and think what is the least bad choice and how do I try and cabin this off from having worse consequences?” Hillary Clinton said.

Hillary Clinton added the choice in the 2016 election will be about “fundamental rights” issues much like the civil rights issues these measures addressed, such as the right to abortion, defending Planned Parenthood and same-sex marriage, continued discrimination against LGBT people and voting rights.

“We are going to have a very vigorous debate in this election because the Republicans are all on record as trying to reverse and rip away the progress that has occurred,” Clinton said.

Hillary Clinton’s remarks that passing DOMA was necessary to avert enactment of a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage are similar to what she said during a testy interview on National Public Radio last year.

The notion DOMA was passed for that reason has been disputed by Hillary Clinton supporter and former Human Rights Campaign chief Elizabeth Birch, who wrote an op-ed saying “there was no real threat” of a Federal Marriage Amendment in 1996.

Hillary Clinton supported DOMA through her first U.S. Senate campaign in 2000. By the time she was undertaking her first presidential run in 2007, she backed only repeal of Section 3 of DOMA. Then-candidate Barack Obama at the time campaigned on repealing all of DOMA.

It has been suggested in some circles within the LGBT community — such as by the grassroots LGBT group GetEQUAL — that Bill Clinton should apologize for DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Bill Clinton came out against the measures before they were lifted, but never formally made an apology.

Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, said Hillary Clinton’s assertion “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA were signed into law because they were the lesser of two bad choices is “astonishing.”

“She is campaigning for president in the midst of one of the most inspiring and creative movement moments we’ve seen in decades — and if she isn’t willing to use her husband’s record as president as an illustration of how conventional politics have failed us, then I don’t see how she wins the White House,” Cronk said.

h/t Towleroad

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • JackNasty

    Hillary needs to drop this ridiculous, fabricated rationalization for the Clintons’ support for DOMA. The Federal Marriage Amendment was first proposed in 2002, not 1996.

    Apparently, this self-serving woman cannot tell the truth about anything.

    • Stephen Clark

      Quite right!

  • Stephen Clark

    The Clinton narrative about DOMA being a defensive action against a constitutional amendment is a pathetic Democratic talking point that was trumped up in 2013 as a cover story to excuse those mealy mouthed Democrats who supported DOMA in 1996. Both Elizabeth Birch and Evan Wolfson, who were front and center in the DOMA fight, have publicly debunked this complete lie. As both have recounted, there was absolutely no talk about a constitutional amendment in 1996. That dates to years later. If DOMA was such a pro-gay gambit, why did Barney Frank and our strongest congressional allies fight so hard to kill it? They were the gay heroes in 1996, not the conniving, self-serving Democrats who stabbed us in the back, including the Clintons.

    And, for the record, I am not a Bernie supporter. I’m a Hillary supporter. But this blatant distortion of gay history is intensely offensive, no matter who it comes from. I have no problem with the Clintons admitting that Bill’s re-election necessitated signing DOMA, which is that actual truth. But it spits in the face of every LGBT person to lie about history in a preposterous effort to paint DOMA-supporting Democrats as gay heroes. That is vile, and just reignites the controversy.

    Should we infer from this that, following Biden’s decision not to run, Hillary’s positive debate performance, and her congressional testimony, that the Clintons are now back to their old tricks: stabbing LGBT people in the back and sniffing disdainfully that we have “nowhere else to go.” Well, my wallet just locked shut for Hillary until she drops this insulting lie.

    • Andrew

      Just out of curiousity, how can you support someone who intentionally makes a blatant distortion of gay history, which you rightly find vile? I know your wallet just locked shut, but maybe it is time to give Bernie another look, no??

      • Stephen Clark

        Because Bernie Sanders is utterly and completely unelectable.

  • MadScientist1023

    Get over yourselves, people. The LGBT community was perfectly willing to make these compromises with Democrats at the time. We kept supporting them, even when they overtly opposed gay rights, because we were willing to take the incrimental approach. We knew it was the only way to make any progress. We knew that the candidates who supported us too strongly were unelectable all too often. So we compromised when we had to, and supported Democrats who didn’t openly support us that well. It was a strategic move, and it worked. It seems hypocritical to go back now and punish Democratic politicians for embracing the same strategy that we did.

    • David A Taylor

      OMG. You said it!! It is really pissing me off that some many of us seem to forget that these actions weren’t taken without OUR buy in!!

  • Tom

    This is so typical of Clinton’s homophobia. In 1992, Bill Clinton made pro LGBT promises he never intended to keep. Hillary Clinton now is making pro LGBT promises she never intends to keep. If you point these facts out, self loathing, homophobic defenders of Clinton will attack you irrationally.

    If Clinton wins, she will break her promises and her defenders in the LGBT community will ridicule any queer who expresses any anger, disappointment, or sense of betrayal.

  • Tom

    I was around at the time. I remember that 35 Senators voted to lift the ban entirely in 1993. It only takes 34 to sustain a veto. I remember how Bill Clinton avoided speaking out in support of lifting the military ban. I remember that BIll Clinton created a version of the ban which was intentionally designed to increase the numbers of witchhunts and discharges. Of course, Clinton got all the witchhunts and discharges he wanted.

    You should become more informed on issues before claiming that others are ill informed.

  • Tom

    These homophobic comments by Clinton are sadly typical.

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