Is Bill Clinton Right that DOMA Should Be Overturned?

Former president Bill Clinton, who signed the law, now says it is unconstitutional.


Former president Bill Clinton wrote in the Washington Post Thursday that he now supports the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage between a man and a woman. Because of it, same sex couples legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are excluded from federal benefits available to heterosexual couples.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Clinton signed the law in 1996, and says he did so to avoid the passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage which would have made for an even greater hurdle to eventual marriage equality. He acknowledged that for a country that "honors freedom, equality and justice above all," the Defense of Marriage Act cannot be constitutional:

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.

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.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Supreme Court Overturn Proposition 8?]

The Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents same sex couples from being able to file joint tax returns, or receive the same family heath and federal benefits as heterosexual couples, will come before the Supreme Court in March. Clinton joins the Obama administration, which announced it would stop defending the law in court in 2011, in calling for it to be found unconstitutional. The administration released a brief in February urging the Supreme Court to overturn the law, saying it "violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection."

Supporters of the law say marriage ought to be defined as between a man and a woman, and say the Defense of Marriage Act is necessary to uphold traditional family values.

What do you think? Is Clinton right that DOMA should be overturned? Take the poll and comment below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.