In an editorial published Thursday, President Bill Clinton explained that even though he signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, he does not stand by it. Signing DOMA into law, he suggested, helped dissipate the more “draconian” momentum to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In fact, he now believes it to be not only constitutional, but blatantly discriminatory against gays and lesbians:
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.
Clinton joins 21 Senators and many other Congressional Democrats who previously supported DOMA but now stand opposed to it. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging its constitutionality on March 27.