Hillary Clinton

In Defense of Hillary Clinton's Lackluster Response on Gay Marriage


"When did you stop beating your constituency?"
Credit: ConspiracyofHappiness / photo on flickr

Not to beat a quote into the ground that is no doubt going to be beaten all the way into the earth's core and through the other side by the time 2016 comes around, but: What difference, at this point, does it make when exactly Hillary Clinton became a supporter of same-sex marriage recognition?

For the unaware, Clinton participated in a mostly friendly interview with Terry Gross at NPR that got a little tense once Gross tried to pin Clinton down on when she "evolved" to support gay marriage, wondering if perhaps the former secretary of state had essentially actually believed in gay marriage recognition for a while, but couldn't declare her support because it was a politically problematic position for a very long time. From the transcripts of the interview:

GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it's the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?

CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let's—we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country. I'm proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn't going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that's what we're doing.

GROSS: So just to clarify—just one more question on this—would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?

CLINTON: I think I'm an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it's been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.

GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the '90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.

CLINTON: But not—to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast—by historic terms—social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward—maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established.

This went back and forth for a bit, with Gross trying to pin Clinton down to saying whether she actually "evolved" or whether she couldn't say so. Clinton kept pointing out that America as a whole has evolved (and rather quickly) on gay marriage and said that it's not true that she held her tongue on gay marriage because of political considerations.

Clinton could no doubt have handled the situation better (Peter Suderman took note yesterday of Clinton's struggles to campaign on her record rather than just her identity), and her awkward responses drew analysis. Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight, in his own particular style, analyzed exit poll data and determined that women with Clinton's background had reached majority support for gay marriage all the way back in the early '90s, during the time when her husband was president and signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Clinton declared her support for gay marriage recognition in 2013, after President Barack Obama's "evolution," all of which happened after polls began showing consistent majority support for same-sex marriage recognition by all Americans. Essentially, Silver is saying that Clinton was an outlier among her own peers if she truly didn't support same-sex marriage until recently.  

Andrew Sullivan, infamously no fan of the Clintons, is actually friendlier than I expected him to be when asked if he could see himself supporting her as a candidate, though he hits the same point as Suderman that she doesn't seem to be actually offering a sense of what she'd do as president and hits back at progressives who want to portray her as some sort of important ally or savior on gay issues. That attitude is a little amusing given that he notably gave President Barack Obama a pass in his Newsweek piece when the president declared support for gay marriage recognition once the polls made it clear it was politically safe to do so.

I dread the idea that any upcoming election could revolve around who supported gay marriage first and when and whether they were sincere. The idea that American politicians are actually "leaders," especially on cultural issues, is a persistent myth. There are very few "pioneers" among politicians on gay issues beyond those who are actually gay. The rest have, like Clinton and Obama, been playing catch up with the polls. They always have been and they always will.

Clinton was also criticized for declaring support for a state-by-state march toward gay marriage recognition by those who worship at the altar of centralized authority. Most gay activist groups are pushing for a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, hence all the federal lawsuits in the wake of the DOMA ruling trying to push for a new review.

But anybody who thinks that the Supreme Court is some sort of "leader" on civil rights issues is as misguided as anybody who thinks similarly about politicians. Yes, DOMA was a response to gay marriage recognition movements by some states, but does anybody actually, seriously believe DOMA would have been struck down if it had come before the Supreme Court, say, a year after its passing, regardless of the court's makeup? Does anybody really think that the increase in the number of states legalizing recognition was irrelevant to the court's decision?

Since so many of these new federal rulings supporting gay marriage recognition invoke the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia decision banning laws against mixed-race marriages, a reminder: That ruling came years after many states began striking down the laws on their own and three years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (also after previous Supreme Court rulings upheld anti-miscegenation laws). The Supreme Court doesn't lead either. To the extent that the Supreme Court makes rulings that expand liberty, they've done so following significant cultural pushes likewise. They may not acknowledge these pushes in their rulings, but it's remarkably foolish to think that these smaller victories don't have huge influences on these decisions.

The details of how or when or how sincere Clinton's positions on gay marriage are in the now is not particularly compelling (he says, after 1,200 words). It's only an indicator that, yes, Hillary Clinton is a politician, and we already knew that. There is nothing particular special or noteworthy for her failure to lead the way. That's not what politicians are for. Clinton has given us 99 reasons not to vote for her, but this ain't one.

NEXT: Why Selectively Quoting Orwell's 'Objectively Pro-Fascist' Line Matters

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  1. We cannot let a minority of people hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.

    1. Jacob Sullum is gonna write about that mess. Stay tuned.

      1. Hey Shaq, how come you get stuck writing the gay stuff? Did you spill coffee on The Jacket or something? šŸ˜‰

        1. The jacket snitched on my secret collection of shirtless Vin Diesel pictures.

          1. Do you have the one with him on the pool table?

        2. Don’t listen to Scott’s excuses. It’s because they found out he’s a Brony.

          1. It’s because they found out he’s a Brony.

            Does he know Andrew S.?

            1. Well, they seem to have the same last name. Maybe they’re related? S isn’t that common of a last name, you know. I think Bronyism runs in families.

              1. I think Bronyism runs in families.

                That information should be suppressed for the good of society.

                Student: But doctor, eugenics is wrong!
                Doctor: I would like to counter that with “Bronys”
                Student: I’ll get the tiny scissors and an antiseptic.

  2. Have fun trying to pin Hillary down on this, journalists. I think someone once likened such things to trying to nail down jello.

  3. The Dems in town are already taking credit for expanding freedom vis-a-vis gay marriage and legalization of geef. It’s unfuckingbelievable.

    When Paul Wellstone came out AGAINST teh homo weddings, my fellow Dems said he was just following the tenets of his religion.

    1. Really? They used “he was just following his religion” as an EXCUSE?

      I thought progs denounced it as “theocracy” when politicians did that.

  4. I think President Hillary will exact her revenge on NPR.

    1. The only thing that would have the least value about a Shillary presidency, would be the entertaining escapades of our geriatric first dude, squeezing female reporter tushies at the white house, making his rounds through the Capitol building in his adult diaper, sexually harassing random interns, the media defending him every step of the way.

      1. I like to think that Bill has been planning for decades–I mean, before he was even governor of Arkansas–to be First Husband, just so he could go totally and absolutely insane on a Charlie Sheen level. No, even greater.

        1. He’ll never top this, no matter how hard he tries:

          Yeltsin wants a pizza

          1. I miss the days when the Russian premier was so plastered all the time he couldn’t cause much trouble.

            Putin probably drinks bottled water and orange juice, and keeps alert at all times.

        2. “I’m on a drug. It’s called Bill Clinton. It’s not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

          1. Exactly. But times ten.

            I just had a vision. Maybe it’s an alternative reality and not ours, but it’s a vision nonetheless.

            HRC is the next president. The Browns win the Super Bowl, and Charlie Sheen, in a comeback role, wins the Academy Award for Best Actor. He and Manziel are invited to the White House, where they end up talking to Bill until late in the night. They grab some cash, Air Force One, and some Secret Service servants, and go on the greatest partying adventure in the history of humanity.

            1. They could call the movie version of the night “Bill and Turd’s Excellent Adventure (plus Charlie Sheen)”

              1. I’m envisioning Charlie Sheen in the role of Rufus. Also, being fully aware of the epic nature of their adventure, they kidnap Brad Bird and a camera and sound crew to record the whole thing. Herzog is also there, filming a documentary about the flight attendant they’re all banging.

                1. I don’t know about all that. I just wanted to call Johnny Fuckface a turd.

                  1. After nearly six weeks of partying and committing sins in every known human religion, the party tragically ends, after Johnny tries to fly the plane and crashes it into downtown Cleveland.

          2. I read this in Bill Clinton’s voice. I chuckled. That is all.

  5. We know the Dems jumped opportunistically on this particular bandwagon. Boring.

    What interests me is that Hillary got into an testy argument with a sympathetic journalist on NPR. This indicates what a fun person he must be to be around, even for her friends and allies.

    1. fun person *she* must be

      1. Trans-phobic Freudian slip?

    2. It’s just one of the many signs that she’s not going to make it even to the nomination, let alone the White House.

      1. A bold prediction, Pro Lib, but I think she’ll win it (unfortunately).

        1. She’s been flopping around almost nonstop for months, despite a generally friendly media and no direct opponents attacking her. She’s total meat, and I think the Democrats are starting to realize it.

  6. Now, *Bill* Clinton would have handled it a bit differently:

    GROSS: “would you say your view evolved since the ’90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?”

    BILL CLINTON: “Well, Terry, in the 90s I didn’t think much about gay issues until the Republicans started getting all upset about it. Thinking back on it, I’m real sad that I got duped into signing that bill. The day after I did it, I got a call from an old neighbor in Arkansas who said, ‘Bill, I’m disappointed in you, I have a gay son who’s about to celebrate his wedding, and he was hurt that you signed that bill.’ And I replied, ‘let me make it up to you, I’ll attend the wedding and from now on, I promise to work to defend gay people.’ And I kept both promises – I attended the wedding and then I signed the Matthew Shepard Act and [rattles off a list of things he’s done for the gays – some may even be true]. And from that day to this I never stopped fighting for the rights of Americans of all sexual orientations. It is unacceptable that there are [make up a number] hate crimes against gays every year, and I’m proud I signed the hate crimes bill [etc.].”

    Isn’t that a lot better than Hillary’s defensive irritation?

    1. yes, but Bill is a good politician.

      1. Did you like my Bill speech?

        1. Disturbingly good – I read it in his voice.

          1. yes. it was totally believable.

            now imagine him giving it on a rope line while he puts his hand on your shoulder. that’s how you get 379 electoral college votes

        2. Bravo.

      2. liar, politician, pussy-hound, whatever. He was damn good.

      3. Yes. It’s funny that some used to think (you don’t hear this much anymore) that she was the brains of the relationship. That was always fairly obvious nonsense, but it’s really apparent today.

        During my brief time as a fellow, the scuttlebutt was that he was pretty smart–could solve hard crosswords, quickly, that sort of thing. Not that he was a great decision-maker or at all honest, but his intelligence is hard to question, especially when it comes to politics.

        1. Armchair psychology, but I’ve always noted that Clinton has sociopathic characteristics: high intelligence, superficially charming, manipulative, amoral.

          1. I’m inclined to agree. I find it fascinating that he hasn’t taken a beating from the modern left for essentially behaving like a Republican president from 1995-2000. Because he didn’t care at all about the issues; he just wanted to be president.

            1. It’s a love/hate relationship. They really hate NAFTA and his “neo-liberal” agenda but they also love a winner and he serves as a convenient club with which to bash Republicans since his presidency holds high nostalgia value.

              They won’t abandon him until they find a great progressive messiah like FDR. They thought they had that in Obama but boy were they wrong.

              1. I love the delusion they have that a strong economy during the Clinton years somehow supports far left politics. Besides the fact that whatever good happened despite, not because of, Washington, the big takeaway from the 90s is the joys of gridlock and an opposition Congress.

              2. President De Blasio.


                1. Everyone acts like only Hillary is going to run, which is such obvious nonsense. I think many are laying low until the November election, which is looking more and more likely to be a bloodbath. They’ll want to see what the temperature is like before they dive in.

                  Hillary, as usual, as the political acumen of a bull.

    2. Every time I see or even hear of Slick Willy these days, I can’t help forming a mental image of that Family Guy episode where Peter and Willy get stoned, Clinton sees a pig in a field and says ‘Hey, see that pig, we could totally eat that pig!’.

      1. my default is that SNL jogging into the McDonalds sketch.

        1. Even back then, there were rumors that he’d sneak out to the McDonald’s on 17th Street.

          1. While at the same time seeing Burger King on the side.

            1. I never heard that. There was an Au Bon Pain nearby–wonder if he ate there?

    3. This may be the thing I hate most about Hillary. Bill wanted power like tony wants cake, but he can at least be pleasant and make crude populist appeals. Hillary is so power hungry she can’t even stop foaming at the mouth on NPR. How much more of a bitch would she be if elected.

  7. Wait, she’s not a lesbian?

    1. You think she’s pulling an Eleanor Roosevelt?

      1. No wonder the Weiner went ape shit. I mean, imagine, your wife preferring cankles over you.

    2. Mark my words, if this gets ugly and she refuses to bow out, she’ll come out. Even if she is not, in fact, a lesbian.

      1. It would be a double super wammy card for team blue. Not only would opposing the queen be sexist, it would be homophobic too! Better than first black potus!

        1. It’s such an obvious gambit, and there’s some reason to suspect that it’s at least partially true.

        2. Then the Republicans could run with Condie! A woman, a lesbian, and black too! Completely criticism proof!

          1. Oddly, it doesn’t at all work that way.

            1. You mean the same rules don’t apply to both sides? Oh dang.

              1. Shocking, I know. It’s not identity politics after all. It’s just politics.

                I’m surprised more people don’t call the left out for the huge hypocrisy they have when it comes to minority rights. They’re no different than the people who used the masses to take over France, only to shove the masses back in their place when they won. Ditto with the Russian revolution.

                1. Ditto with the Unaffordable Care Act.

                  1. Yes. Use the poor, the old, the young, the historically disadvantaged to get stuff you want. Not what they want or need, just for you. What’s Obama done for any of those groups in six years? Jackshit.

  8. According to Secret Service rumors she swings both ways.

    1. That was to CPA.

    2. *Thinks about anyone having sex with Hillary, shudders*

  9. For the record – I first heard about this whole gay marriage thing in 90-91.
    My first response was “fuck it, let em do what they want.”
    After some thought, my second response was “Why the hell does ANYONE need to go get the blessing of some low-level county employee to get married?”
    My third response was “The lefties are going to take this up as their next great “civil rights cause” and ignore the Drug War mess.”

    I have since evolved into a small salamander.

    1. That was pretty much my thought process too. But I evolved into a shogoth.

  10. “I dread the idea that any upcoming election could revolve around who supported gay marriage first and when and whether they were sincere.”

    Agreed, but having someone call her on her obvious weather-vaning isn’t a bad idea.

    1. The question revolved around to what extent she is a hack.

  11. It’s nice to read an article in Reason that doesn’t argue that Supreme Court decisions ought to be based on the single, eternal meaning of the Constitution that was perfectly fixed in the minds of the several hundred thousand rich white dudes who voted for it back in the day, but rather that the Court’s best decisions are often inherently, and correctly, political in nature. As for Hillary, the more she talks, the worse she sounds.

    1. Ezra Klein has a posse.

    2. meaning of the Constitution that was perfectly fixed in the minds of the several hundred thousand rich white dudes who voted for it back in the day,

      Wow, you fit “OVER A HUNDRRRD YERRRZ OLD!!” and “RICH WHITE KOCH MEN” into the same sentence! You only missed the “THEY OWNEDD SLAYYYVESSSS!!!!!” argument.

      1. It’s significant that the entire legitimacy of the government is based on that document. Not 225 years ago–right now. This idea that we can just skip amending the Constitution and make up meanings that clearly don’t exist is not only foolish, it’s dangerous.

        I’m surprised that lefties think that American totalitarianism will be in their control. We are not, by and large, a leftist nation. Our dictator, when he comes, will much more likely be a right populist. But, by all means, continue taking the shackles off of Leviathan.

    3. I didn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment. It goes both ways. Compare: The complete decimation of the Fourth Amendment and American’s fears of being victims of drug cartels/terrorists/various boogeymen.

    4. Alan Vanneman|6.18.14 @ 2:38PM|#
      “It’s nice to read an article in Reason that doesn’t argue that Supreme Court decisions ought to be based on the single, eternal meaning of the Constitution that was perfectly fixed in the minds of the several hundred thousand rich white dudes who voted for it back in the day,”

      Alan, that’s a huge pile of bullshit to make a bogus claim.
      You should learn to bullshit with more economy; I wouldn’t have to waste so much time

  12. It was sort of astounding at how she just refused to answer the question, despite it not being a difficult one.

    My guess is, that at this point, she has made up so much garbage that she is terrified of uttering any kind of concrete statement for fear that it will contradict something she said previously or something she will want to say later. She is already following in the footsteps of John Kerry and Mitt Romney, and I expect the result will be the same.

    1. So right. She’s not going to take a stand on anything. But she WILL say anything, ANYTHING, to be president.

  13. “This went back and forth for a bit, with Gross trying to pin Clinton down to saying whether she actually “evolved” or whether she couldn’t say so. ”

    No one can pin Hillary down. Just ask Bill.

  14. “Does anybody really think that the increase in the number of states legalizing recognition was irrelevant to the court’s decision?”

    The overwhelming majority of those were as a result of state court decisions. The few that were result legislative action like New York were influenced by fairly naked vote buying corruption. This has been an entirely top down development, not a natural change of views on the part of society.

  15. “The details of how or when or how sincere Clinton’s positions on gay marriage are in the now is not particularly compelling (he says, after 1,200 words). It’s only an indicator that, yes, Hillary Clinton is a politician, and we already knew that.”

    Or some relatively honest progressives (a low bar)might find it a teensy bit awkward to get into high dudgeon about the “bigotry” of people still opposed to SSM when their heir presumptive to the presidency was on that side of the argument.

    Tough seeing the quality of Shackford’s arguments in support of this issue, I understand why he would find such delicate sensibilities confusing.

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