Hillary’s Revisionism Does Nobody Any Good

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BY PAUL SCHINDLER | If the biggest LGBT rights wins have been ending the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy, overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and winning marriage equality nationwide, an uncomfortable truth for candidate Hillary Clinton is that the first two were reversals of policies signed into law by her husband. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, waging a surprisingly robust challenge from the left, reminds crowds that he was one of only 67 “no” votes on DOMA in the 435-member House of Representatives.

Some Hillary boosters argue — not unreasonably — that DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are both very old history, especially when evaluating a candidate who today embraces major LGBT political goals with gusto. But history is history and facts are stubborn things. What’s important to me about all this is how Clinton reckons with that past, allowing us a window on the candor she’ll bring to the ongoing fight for equality. Recent comments from Clinton give reason for pause.

First the history. In his 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton promised to end the ban on gay and lesbian military service. When faced, in his administra­tion’s earliest days, with adamant opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of Congress, including prominent Democrats, however, he backed down and accepted a cynical “compromise,” which led to nearly two more decades of harassment and discharge.

In 1996, as progress toward marriage equality in Hawaii stirred concern on the right, veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress coalesced in support of DOMA. Clinton, arguing he opposed both discrimination and marriage equality, accused the Republicans of creating a wedge issue but announced he would sign the bill. His supporters insisted to do otherwise would threaten his reelection, despite GOP adversary Bob Dole’s anemic poll standing. With reelection assured by late October — and perhaps with an eye toward a 50-state sweep — the president took to small Christian radio stations in red states to brag about how he defended traditional marriage.

That last is a particularly problematic action to defend, though when Hillary spoke to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on October 23, the Christian radio chest-thumping did not come up. Clinton did, however, offer a defense of her husband’s reason for signing DOMA simply not supported by the facts: “On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed — and there was certainly evidence to support it — is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that.” In other words, DOMA was that firewall. When Maddow suggested that Clinton was arguing the law was a “defensive action,” Hillary embraced that language, going so far as to apply the same explanation for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The problem is that the constitutional amendment threat was not in the air in 1996; that wouldn’t pop up for nearly two more presidential terms, becoming a signature issue in George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. I know this from my own reporting. Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson knows this because nobody knows the history of marriage equality better than he does. And Elizabeth Birch, a Hillary partisan who was in charge of the Human Rights Campaign in 1996, knows it.

As for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell being defensive, that’s simply a cover for one of the most ineptly handled political initiatives of the Bill Clinton years.

Hillary disavowed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1999, while her husband was still in office. She was much slower to evolve on DOMA and marriage equality — telling me, in 2000, that limiting marriage to different-sex couples is justified by “historic, religious, and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time.”

In the Senate, however, she did fight efforts at a constitutional amendment; at the State Department, she racked up a stellar record in articulating a view and a policy equating gay rights with human rights; and, today, she is a staunch advocate of the Equality Act and a critic of those who hide behind religious exemption claims to deny LGBT Americans equality.

Taking the right positions, however, is just half the battle. The LGBT community needs to know that a President Hillary Clinton will fight to deliver on her commitments. If we are to gain that confidence, we need to know first and foremost that she will always level with us. In looking back at the history of her husband’s record on LGBT rights, right now Hillary is simply not doing that.


Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Kofender says:
No question Hillary is engaging in a bit of revisionist history from an official standpoint. But I remember Hillary as well when she was running for Senate in 2000 and used to hang out across the street from us at the Olympic Diner in Astoria (it's now a bank, but I digress). In those days, she was quite vocal (to my late partner and me) about her support for the LGBT community (these were the days when Astoria was just beginning to go gay) and what she'd do if elected to the Senate. Back then she told us not to judge her by her husband's actions but by her own (remember, she was named as one of the 10 most qualified women to be POTUS in 1990—before Bill was President).
Oct. 29, 2015, 6:01 pm
J. F. Mulligan says:
Let us not forget Hillary Clinton breaking the boycott of the NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade so she could march in an anti-gay parade when she was running for Senator in NY. Queer electeds met wit her, activists met with her- all for nothing. Her lack of principles and allegiance to polls for her positions is legendary. Anyone with one eye and moderate hearing can see there is a change in the current of politics and "suddenly" become anti-war and pro civil rights for queers and communities of color. Hillary Clinton's campaign is about the status quo and the mainstream, not liberation or even change.
Oct. 31, 2015, 9:36 am
Pauline Park says:
When she was running for the Senate in 2000 and after she was elected, Hillary refused to meet with transgender activists from the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and other organizations and never once mentioned transgender rights while in the Senate; she only supported the inclusive ENDA after the Senate and House Democratic leadership and virtually the entire Democratic caucus in the Senate came out in favor of it. As secretary of state, Hillary never once mentioned transgender rights as an issue other than as part of a general reference to LGBT rights. Hillary opposed marriage equality until she began her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The fact that Hillary is lying about DOMA and DADT shouldn't surprise anyone; she has no credibility on LGBT issues or any other civil rights or human rights issues, for that matter. No credible progressive would ever support her candidacy for president.
Oct. 31, 2015, 12:32 pm
Bill Guy says:
Mrs. Clinton is a politician, like most of them she's watching her political compass to see which way the winds are blowing. Whether Sanders or Clinton, the alternative that is the GOP offers nothing....Progressive, Liberals and lefties of other stripes should keep in mind the big picture, and that is the supremes, the next president is going to appoint at least two justices. More immediate is rallying behind the law makers that are proposing a bill to make illegal the dismissal from employment based on sexual orientation. We can spend time looking through the wear view mirror at Clinton's revisionism et. al., which isn't doing any of us 'any good', either. Or, we can hold her feet to the fire-should she become the next commander in chief- and make sure equal job protection becomes the law of the land.
Nov. 1, 2015, 4:21 pm
@imavirginlol says:
Paul understates the threat of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the dark days of DOMA . I don't see how Paul can just take for granted the tactical mollification of the constitutional threat. He seems to assume the constitutional fight would have unfolded the same without DOMA as with. With huge respect, I don't think that makes sense. On the timing, the Marriage Protection Amendment hit full steam in 2004, but it didn't just 'pop up' out of nowhere. The principals of the Amendment were in place years before, coming out of the Dobson nuthouse and tragically, the black Civl Rights movement. Even on the right wing, DOMA cast doubt on the Constitutional nutjob overkill strategy -- until the Massachusetts backlash. Hillary says she anticipated the attack on the Constitution, as any good lawyer would, long before it was formally introduced in Congress in 2001. Regarding a DOMA veto, 85 Senators voted for DOMA. How could the optics of the Radical Right crushing a Presidential veto help us? There is no doubt about the facts: Democrats used DOMA to cover their ass when they voted against the Marriage Protection Amendment. Did we really want to see them vote on the Constitution in the 2004 backlash without DOMA? Are we going to pretend that vote would not have been catastrophic? Who's the revisionist here? I don't think Paul does Hillary justice for her role in protecting the Constitution from the Radical Right. In her Senate speech against the Amendment, she invoked both her moral authority as 'First Wife' and even her personal marital troubles with Bill: "I have had occasion in my life to ... to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I take umbrage at anyone who might suggest that those of us who worry about amending the Constitution are less committed to the sanctity of marriage." In short, "I stayed married to Bill Clinton, how dare you lecture me on marriage?" Frankly, I don't care whether the Clintonian lip service to 'the sanctity of marriage' was tactical or heartfelt. When the Radical Right was riding high in public opinion, Hillary strategically identified the U.S. Constitution as the vital chokepoint and defended it. The rest is history. I have full confidence in Hillary's fighting smarts.
Nov. 6, 2015, 1:31 am
alex says:
why she is even an issue or a candidate shocks anyone ? power and money folks - nothing else to see here folks
Jan. 17, 2016, 1:18 pm

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