One of the most egregious mistakes of Bill Clinton’s tenure as President—a politically-motivated blunder that almost rivaled his unconscionable rejection of a needle exchange program, which medical evidence clearly demonstrated would save millions of lives—was his signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), less than two months before his re-election of 1996.
Caving into rampant fundamentalist Christian homophobia—and a National GOP Platform which endorsed DOMA and didn’t want States to be forced to recognize same sex marriages—Clinton signed the law which defended all marriages except those between two individuals of the same sex, because he feared he’d lose the election to Senator Bob Dole if he didn’t, despite polls which showed he was never in serious trouble of being beaten by the duller-than-dull Dole. Clinton clobbered Dole by a 220 electoral vote margin.
Years later, after state and federal court cases began to accumulate against DOMA’s clear 14th Amendment equal protection clause violations, Clinton, on his “Mea Culpa” tour to apologize for all the slippery, cowardly actions he took as President (Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell, DOMA, Needle Exchange, Welfare Repeal), invented the excuse that he feared if he rejected DOMA, the GOP—in control of both houses of Congress—would pass a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages.
Evan Wolfson, who headed the National Freedom to Marry Coalition, at the time—one of the foremost “Marriage For All” advocacy organizations in the nation–called out Clinton’s lame excuse for what it was: “Complete nonsense. The idea that people were swallowing DOMA in order to prevent a constitutional amendment is really just historic revisionism and not true. That was never an argument made in the ‘90’s”.
Having been there at the time, and following the debate very closely, I can affirm that Wolfson was precisely correct, and Clinton was lying. On December 12, 1996—three months after Clinton signed DOMA into law–and exactly 26 years to the day before it was finally repealed by the President Joe Biden’s signing into law “The Respect for Marriage Act,” I wrote a column entitled “Marriage For All,” which appeared in newspapers across Long Island, New York.
I have reprinted my column “American Tune” from the North Shore Newspaper Group, entitled “Marriage For All,” from December 12, 1996. The fact that after decades of struggle, organizing and leadership from many LGBTQ organizations and politicians as diverse as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice-President Kamala Harris, and President Joe Biden, “marriage for all” was finally achieved 26 years later, from the day my article added its voice of advocacy for it, completes a circle that has been a long-time coming. The text of my 1996 column is below:
“In her powerful book, “The War Against the Jews, 1933-45,” Lucy Dawidowicz recounts the chilling history of the Nuremberg Laws, which legalized discrimination against Germany’s Jews.
“As once before in 1933, and now in 1935, “ Dawidowitz writes, “the violence of anti-Semitism was channeled into law…the so-called Nuremberg Laws, were adopted unanimously by the Reichstag on September 15, 1935.
“These laws,” she continues, “legitimated racist anti-Semitism and turned the ‘purity of German Blood,’ into a legal category. They forbade marriage and extra-marital relations between Germans and Jews.”
The basic provisions of the “Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” were uncomplicated: ”Marriage between Jews and nationals of German kindred blood was forbidden; extramarital relations between the two groups were forbidden.”
Adolf Hitler himself provided the rationale for the Nazi’s racist legislation in his book “Mein Kampf: “Blood sin and desecration of the race are the original sin in this world and the end of a humanity which surrenders to it.”
Dawidowicz noted that Hitler had already conceived of the State’s regulating marriage for racial purposes when he wrote in Mein Kampf: “A Folkish state must therefore begin by raising marriage from the level of continuous defilement of the race, and give it to the consecration of an institution which is called upon to produce images of the Lord and not monstrosities half-way between man and ape.”
And, in what is probably his most famous statement on marriage, Hitler wrote: “Marriage cannot be an end in itself, but must serve the higher goal, the increase and preservation of the species and race. This alone is its’ meaning and task.”
Yet, Hitler and the Nazis were not the only government officials who enacted and enforced “laws” restricting marriage by race or religion. Up until 1967, when the Loving vs. Virginia US Supreme Court decision struck down laws banning interracial marriages, many American states throughout the South had laws against miscegenation, or mixed-race marriages, in existence since the founding of the United States. Those states had prohibited marriage or cohabitation between Blacks and Whites.
Now, there are new targets of marriage restrictions in 20 states and by the United States of America. These targets, not selected by religious beliefs or skin color, have also been accused of “defilement of the race,” or of not serving the “higher goal” of marriage, “the increase and preservation of the species and the race.” These new targets just happen to be of the same sex, and to have committed the crime of being in love, and wanting to spend their lives together—with all of the legal protections accorded all married couples.
Even before a judge in Hawaii ruled last week (November, 1996) that it was unconstitutional to continue to ban same sex marriages, opponents on the Far Right had already pressured lawmakers in 20 states and in Congress to declare that they wouldn’t recognize such marriages as legitimate, even if another state did.
Such action to deny the validity of the future action of a sister state is unprecedented in American history, and in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution which requires that “full faith and credit shall be given each state to the public acts, records and proceedings of every other state.”
The targets of this new brand of legalized hate may be different this time; they not be Jews, or Blacks, though some are. They are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters and friends, and all of us—entitled to the same fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution, by a commitment to equality, and by conscience.”
@copyright 1996, North Shore Newspaper Group.