(Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, expressed strong opposition to the federal marriage law this week, asserting that it is time for it to be overturned.
The 42nd president of the Unites States explained his reasoning in a letter to The Washington Post, saying that back when he signed the bill, the country was living in very different times.
"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 wrote.
Clinton explained that his reasoning behind signing DOMA was not so much to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, which is what the bill recognized on a federal level, but to "defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more."
His opinion comes as the Supreme Court is set to hear a legal challenge against DOMA later this month.
Current President Barack Obama signed a brief last Friday urging the Supreme Court to strike down Section 3 of DOMA when the justices review several gay marriage cases in the final week of March. Section 3 keeps the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples legally married in states.
In his letter, Clinton agreed that Section 3 is unconstitutional because it denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples in the nine states and the District of Columbia which currently allow same-sex marriage.
"Among other things, these couples 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," Clinton explained. "Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws."
The former president insisted that when he signed the bill, he did not intend it to provide an excuse for discrimination, which he now believes that it does.
"Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path," Clinton concluded. "We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: "It is not 'Can any of us imagine better?' but 'Can we all do better?'"
In addition to Obama, some of America's biggest companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon have all filed briefs calling on the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA and Proposition 8, the 2008 California amendment that banned gay marriage in the state.
Many conservatives and religious leaders, however, have spoken out strongly against such plans.
"Many of those in favor of this bill argue that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is not intended to force same-sex 'marriage' on all the states," Brian Raum of Alliance Defending Freedom has said. "If that is not the intent, its supporters wouldn't be seeking to repeal the section of DOMA that makes it clear that states have a right to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
"Marriage as a male-female union has been easily defended in court and overwhelmingly supported by the American people. There is absolutely no excuse beyond pandering to his liberal political base for President Obama's decision to abandon his constitutional role to defend a federal law enacted overwhelmingly by Congress," former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said of Obama's decision not to defend DOMA back in 2011.
Bill Clinton's full letter to The Washington Post, published on March 7, can be found here.