Defense of Marriage Act (The Federal Version)

We have had a lively exchange of comments (thanks to all for their input) on the Agricoli decision to vote in favor of the South Carolina Marriage Amendment. I hope the discussion is not over.  As a sidebar to the local issue, Dick Morris, late of the Clinton White House, pens a column on Hillary Clinton’s position on Gay Marriage rights, found here.

A flavor: 

Her statement dismissed her support of her husband’s Defense of Marriage Act as "a strategic decision to help derail a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage."

Nonsense. I was in the room at the White House strategy meeting and was sitting next to the president when he decided to promote and sign the bill. Nobody was even talking about a constitutional amendment back then – 1995-96 – and no one in the meeting so much as mentioned the possibility. His decision to sign the bill closely followed my announcement of polling data that suggested overwhelming support for the legislation. His announcement to his staff and advisers that he would sign the bill was, indeed, a strategic decision, but one that related to his re-election prospects rather than to any push for a constitutional amendment.

The bill was passed by Congress because of fears that legislation in Vermont, signed by Gov. Howard Dean, allowing same-sex "civil unions" might force other states to recognize unions formed under Vermont law. The worry was that same sex couples could force the other 49 states to recognize a marital relationship allowed under Vermont law by invoking the U.S. Constitution’s full-faith-and-credit clause, which requires that states recognize the actions of their fellow states. To forestall this possibility, the Defense of Marriage Act tried to prohibit courts from making states recognize gay marriages or civil unions allowed by another state.

This issue is being used by politicians to curry votes, and not to establish principle, which is yet another reason to let the people vote.

UPDATE: From The Corner comes a clarification of Morris’s column:

Dick Morris [Ramesh Ponnuru]

catches Hillary Clinton engaging in some revisionism about her position on same-sex marriage, but doesn’t get the timeline right himself. According to Morris, she claims that she supported her husband’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act only to stave off a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Morris points out, accurately, that no such amendment was being discussed at the time (the law was signed in 1996). He says that it was Vermont’s "civil unions" statute that inspired the law. That’s not true: Vermont’s high court ordered the state to enact civil unions in 1999, three years after the law was signed. The impetus for DOMA came from other court decisions (notably Hawaii’s), and from the Supreme Court’s Romer decision that year, which seemed to some DOMA backers to be putting the courts behind gay rights in a way they found objectionable.

This changes the facts of the column, but not the political calculation that went into the decision-making by the Clinton Administration.  I apologize for not attempting to verify Morris’s contentions.

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