Bill Clinton, the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, has joined the growing chorus of prominent Americans urging the Supreme Court to overturn it, 17 years after it became law.
Writing an op-ed in the Washington Post this week Clinton said: 'On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. 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.'
Commentators are calling Clinton's move a remarkable about-face, especially for a former president, since they rarely disavow major legislation once they have signed it.
According to the Daily News, in his op-ed this week Clinton notes that 1996 was 'a very different time,' but he has still refrained from outlining exactly why he signed it.
In recent years Clinton has said said some DOMA supporters in fact believed its passage 'would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.'
But prominent gay rights activist Michelangelo Signorile immediately took issue with Clinton's recollections, calling his justification 'disingenuous' and 'revisionist history.' Signorile also denied that Democrats were trying to stop a constitutional amendment from being passed in 1996. 'In fact, gay activists cannot recall any mention of a constitutional amendment until years later,' Signorile wrote.
In his op-ed Clinton writes that he now knows the law was discriminatory. In fact, DOMA was one of most discriminatory anti-gay statutes in American history.
Comparing the struggle for gay rights to the women’s fight for the right to vote, Clinton wrote: 'I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.'
'Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path,' he wrote. 'We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values.'
In his op-ed Clinton offered his perspective on his decision to sign DOMA, but he offered no apology. Clinton also signed the so-called Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that was eventually repealed in 2011.
DOMA reportedly comes before the Supreme Court on March 27; it is is also considering a challenge to California’s gay marriage ban known as Proposition 8.
The Obama administration has written a friend-of-the-court-brief calling on the Supreme Court to strike down that ban. President Obama's leadership on gay rights issues stands in sharp contrast to Clinton's altogether more cautious two terms.
'The reason Bill Clinton signed DOMA is, quite simply, because he refused to be leader on a civil rights issue, irrationally fearful of the ramifications of vetoing the bill and rationalizing the damage caused by signing it,' Signorile wrote in the Huffington Post.