Bill Clinton does most things right. His entire life, the former president's done nothing but succeed tremendously at everything he does. But even Bubba messes up sometimes. In a new Washington Post editorial, Clinton does a very big thing: He admits to being wrong.
Momentum for the gay rights movement has been building momentum for years now, and Clinton just threw his weight behind it. The two-term president does not try to hide the face that he signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law. In fact, his very first sentence reads, "In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act." Clinton goes on to express what a "different time" it was back then, and how he decided to sign the thing as advisors warned him of "some quite draconian" alternatives. And yet, he remains unabashed when, in the same breath that he mentions the March 27 Supreme Court hearing on the law, asserts, "As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution."
This is a big deal. No matter which way you want to cut it, for a president to step forward and more or less condemn a law that he signed is a dramatic gesture. Bear in mind, this comes nearly a full year after President Barack Obama said that he thought "same-sex couples should be able to get married." Two presidents! Bundled with the amicus brief that the Obama administration sent to the Supreme Court this week, Clinton's editorial leaves little doubt about what the executive branch, past and present, thinks about DOMA. There's also boatloads of evidence that the legislative branch is more or less on the same page.
But bear in mind the fact that Supreme Court doesn't have to listen to the executive branch. Their job is to decide whether a specific law is unconstitutional or not. This one is, according to Bill Clinton who is not a judge, though he does get legal in his column. ("Because Section 3 of the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, same-sex couples who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples.") One thing is undeniable. We have come a long way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.