In the dust-up between NPR’s Terry Gross and Hillary Clinton over the former secretary of state’s position on same-sex marriage, I stand with Clinton. Was she testy? Yes. Perhaps a bit defensive? Yes. Was she right to push back against an insinuation that doesn’t stand up to the facts? Absolutely.
TERRY GROSS: I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed.
HILLARY CLINTON: I said I’m an American, so we all evolved. And I think that that’s a fair, you know, that’s a fair conclusion.
GROSS: So you’re saying your opinion on gay marriage changed as opposed to you – you just felt it was comfortable…
CLINTON: You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody’s always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have.
GROSS: So that’s one for you changed your mind?
CLINTON: You know, I really – I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.
GROSS: I am just trying to clarify so I can understand.
CLINTON: No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify. I think you’re trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong.
The history bears out Clinton’s contention. Her evolution on marriage equality was as irksome for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as was President Obama’s. But what made Obama’s evolution especially painful to watch was knowing that as a candidate for state senate in 1996, he unequivocally stated, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” As I covered Clinton from first lady to senator to presidential candidate, I never detected a whiff of that kind of political calculation in her opposition to same-sex marriage. If anything, her march to “yes” was maddeningly slow.
Clinton announced her full support for marriage equality on March 18, 2013. That’s 46 days after she stepped down from a job that required her to stay out of domestic politics. On that day, The Post’s Rachel Weiner outlined Clinton’s evolution going back to 1999, when she expressed support for domestic partnerships.Weiner’s timeline notes that in January 2000, Clinton was dead set against including same-sex couples in the institution of marriage and she would have voted for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that her husband signed into law. By 2006, as the junior senator from New York, Clinton backed off that position, supported civil unions and said, “I support states making the decision” when asked if she would oppose a law legalizing same-sex marriage in that state.
Clinton repeated her opposition to marriage equality and her support of states making the decision to legalize it at a 2007 Democratic presidential candidates forum I participated in that was hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Logo television channel.
…I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil union. It’s a personal position,….I’ve talked about it with a number of my friends here and across the country. And for me, we have made it very clear in our country that we believe in equality. How we get to full equality is the debate we’re having. And I am absolutely in favor of civil unions with full equality, full equality of benefits, rights and privileges. And I’ve also been a very strong supporter of letting the states maintain their jurisdiction over marriage.
With marriage equality legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia and bans on it under challenge in every other state in the union, it is easy to forget that Clinton’s stance in on the issue in 1990s and last decade was pretty much where the country was then. In fact, her shifting positions reflect the personal evolution millions of Americans have made and continue to make with incredible speed on marriage equality. They just don’t have to do it in the crucible of presidential politics or live on the radio.
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