WASHINGTON (RNS) It’s not every day you see an ex-president ask the Supreme Court to strike down a law he signed.
That’s what Bill Clinton is doing with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman — and which the high court will rule on this year in a landmark moment for the gay marriage movement.
The justices must decide whether the Defense of Marriage Act “is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional,” Clinton writes in The Washington Post.
He adds: “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.”
Clinton says that when he signed the law in 1996, “it was a very different time.” No state recognized same-sex marriage, but some were considering it — and congressional opponents were proposing “quite draconian” responses, the 42nd president writes.
“As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that 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,’” Clinton writes.
Now nine states and the District of Columbia sanction gay marriage, but those couples are denied rights available to others, Clinton notes; they “cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees.”
“When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that ‘enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.’ Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.”
The Supreme Court decision is expected in late June.
(David Jackson writes for USA Today)