by Rex Wockner
Former President Bill Clinton said Aug. 13 that he regrets the way his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military gay ban was implemented, and that he doesn’t “like” the Defense of Marriage Act he signed into law.
Speaking at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, Penn., Clinton said: “When Gen. Colin Powell came up with this ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it was defined while he was chairman much differently than it was implemented. (Powell) said: ‘If you will accept this, here’s what we’ll do. We will not pursue anyone. Any military members out of uniform will be free to march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings. Whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives, none of this will be a basis for dismissal.’ It all turned out to be a fraud because of the enormous reaction against it among the middle-level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So nobody regrets how this was implemented any more than I do.”
“Look, I think it’s ridiculous,” Clinton continued. “Can you believe they spent – whatever they spent – $150,000 to get rid of a valued Arabic speaker recently?
And, you know, the thing that changed me forever on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was when I learned that 130 gay service people were allowed to serve and risk their lives in the first Gulf War, and all their commanders knew they were gay; they let them go out there and risk their lives because they needed them, and then as soon as the first Gulf War was over, they kicked them out. That’s all I needed to know, that’s all anybody needs to know, to know that this policy should be changed.”
As for DOMA, Clinton said he doesn’t like it but that it was the lesser of two evils.
“The reason I signed DOMA was – and I said when I signed it – that I thought the question of whether gays should marry should be left up to states and to religious organizations, and if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage, they ought to,” he said. “We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the 11 referenda much later – in 2004, in the election – which the Republicans put on the ballot to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress from presenting that. The president doesn’t even get to veto that. The Congress can refer constitutional amendments to the states. I didn’t like signing DOMA and I certainly didn’t like the constraints that were put on benefits, and I’ve done everything I could – and I am proud to say that the State Department was the first federal department to restore benefits to gay partners in the Obama administration, and I think we are going forward in the right direction now for federal employees.”
Clinton addressed the two issues after being interrupted by a heckler yelling from the audience.
Blogger Lane Hudson shouted: “Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ right now? Please.”
DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing married gay couples as married and allows states to refuse to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages.
President Barack Obama repeatedly has vowed to see that DOMA is repealed, but has taken no steps to launch the process.
Six states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – have legalized same-sex marriage, while 30 states have amended their constitutions to ban it. In addition, New York and Washington, D.C., recognize the marriages of gay couples who have married elsewhere. The new same-sex marriage laws in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have not yet come into force.
Same-sex marriage also is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.