Bill Clinton, the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law as president, is joining the campaign to get gay marriage legalized in New York.
In a statement released by the Human Rights Campaign on Thursday, Clinton said that the next step in the expansion of rights in the United States should be same-sex marriage in his adopted home state. While Clinton opposed gay marriage while in the White House, he has in recent years shifted his views, something he makes clear in backing the bill in New York.
“Our nation’s permanent mission is to form a ‘more perfect union’ — deepening the meaning of freedom, broadening the reach of opportunity, strengthening the bonds of community,” Clinton said. “That mission has inspired and empowered us to extend rights to people previously denied them. Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation. Now we should do it again, in New York, with marriage equality. For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality.”
Clinton has had an evolving stance on the issue since the 1990s. “I changed my position,” he said in 2009. “I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opposed gay marriage during her time as a senator from New York, and in her 2008 presidential campaign. Earlier this year, she said her position has not changed, even as her husband’s has. But the Clintons’ daughter Chelsea has made clear she supports the legalization of gay marriage.
Months before he signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 — which affects federal laws — Clinton said his views on gay marriage were not likely to change. “I remain opposed to same-sex marriage,” he said at the time. “I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or reconsidered.”
He has since said that he was hung up on the word “marriage.”
The former president’s statement in support of the New York bill comes as advocates push for its passage ahead of the end of the state’s legislative session in June. It’s passed the state Assembly three times in previous years, but failed in the state Senate the one time it came to the floor, in 2009. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that legalizing gay marriage is a priority for his administration, though the current Republican majority in the state Senate is largely opposed to it, along with some conservative Democrats.
Clinton is the highest-profile political figure to sign onto the Human Rights Campaign’s lobbying efforts, but not the only one. In January, Barbara Bush, the 29-year-old daughter of former President George W. Bush, appeared in a 22-second video voicing her support for same-sex marriage in New York. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have also spoken out in support of the bill.
And he isn’t the only Clinton joining the cause. Shortly after the former president’s statement went out, another group called New Yorkers United for Marriage, announced that Chelsea Clinton will be among the 50 volunteers kicking off its phone-banking campaign in the state.
“As a New Yorker who not that long ago got married in New York to her best friend… I certainly believe that all of my friends should have the right, as Marc and I did, to marry their best friend,” she explained to People Magazine. “I certainly expect my straight friends to help us achieve that for all New Yorkers, for all Americans, and for the children that, at least, Marc and I hope to have someday.”