In October 2016, the WikiLeaks web site began publishing “The Podesta Emails,” an archive of e-correspondence to and from John Podesta, the chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Among the messages in that dump was an e-mail chain that purportedly revealed Hillary Clinton privately opposes same-sex marriage despite publicly embracing it in 2013:
Happy #NationalComingOutDay!Yesterday in a leaked email Hillary Clinton came out as a supporter of DOMA (Against gay marriage)
— DEPLORABLE DANI (@NimbleNavgater) October 11, 2016
Wikileaks exposed the fact that Hillary Clinton is STILL against gay marriage in private. Incredible.
— Jason (@EnemyWithinn) October 11, 2016
In a WikiLeaks-revealed chain of messages in which staffers addressed Hillary Clinton’s then-relatively recent reversal of position on LGBT rights, Clinton campaign operative Dan Scherwin stated the following:
I’m not saying double down or ever say [she opposed marriage equality] again. I’m just saying that she’s not going to want to say she was wrong about that, given she and her husband believe it and have repeated it many times. Better to reiterate evolution, opposition to DOMA when court considered it, and forward looking stance.
Viewed in isolation, the passage suggested Hillary Clinton (along with her husband Bill) “believe[d]” in opposing same-sex marriage. But the chain of e-mails was a long one, and the “believe” portion didn’t pertain to her core beliefs surrounding the same-sex marriage issue.
Earlier in the e-mail chain, Clinton campaign operatives quoted an extensive passage from a 2013 op-ed written by former President Bill Clinton on the subject of repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Bill Clinton himself had signed the DOMA into law, an act he later justified (as expressed in the op-ed) as one necessary to head off efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage:
In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Although that was only 17 years ago, it was a very different time. In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction. Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian. As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its passage “would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.” It was under these circumstances that DOMA came to my desk, opposed by only 81 of the 535 members of Congress.
On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore 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.
Hillary Clinton herself said much the same thing about the necessity of her husband’s reluctantly signing the DOMA in order to prevent a less desirable outcome:
On Defense of Marriage [Act], I think what my husband believed — and there was certainly evidence to support it — is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that. And there wasn’t any rational argument — because I was in on some of those discussions, on both ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would — you know, chime in and talk about, ‘You can’t be serious. You can’t be serious.’ But they were. And so, in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further. It was a defensive action.
Thus Dan Scherwin’s writing about what “[Hillary Clinton] and her husband believe” “and have repeated … many times” is a reference to the Clintons’ subsequent claim that DOMA was a necessary evil to head off an in-progress effort to pass a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. But as other staffers noted, the Clintons were wrong about that timing — the constitutional amendment issue didn’t arise until years after Bill Clinton signed the DOMA into law:
Since I was asked about the Defense of Marriage Act in an interview on MSNBC, I’ve checked with people who were involved then to make sure I had all my facts right. It turns out I was mistaken and the effort to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage came some years later.
The most recent Blade article has Elizabeth Birch quoted as saying there was no amendment threat in 1996. Hilary Rosen has already tweeted the same. I’ll ask on the call, but my sense is that there aren’t many friends who will back us up on the point. That’s why I’m urging us to back off as much as we can there.
So, various staffers concluded, since Hillary Clinton was unlikely to either disavow or correct her (and her husband’s) claim that DOMA was needed to preclude the imminent passage of a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage (“she’s not going to want to say she was wrong about that given she and her husband believe it and have repeated it many times”), a better approach to would be to get her to talk about how her views on the same-sex marriage issue have changed over time, and how she supported efforts to have the DOMA declared unconstitutional (“better to reiterate evolution, opposition to DOMA when court considered it, and forward looking stance”)
My two cents is that you’re not going to get her to disavow her explanation about the constitutional amendment and this exercise will be most effective if it provides some context and then goes on offense.
I think we should pull her statements around the time she embraced marriage equality and place greatest emphasis on the fact that she fully acknowledges that she evolved.
I’m not saying double down or ever say it again. I’m just saying that she’s not going to want to say she was wrong about that, given she and her husband believe it and have repeated it many times. Better to reiterate evolution, opposition to DOMA when court considered it, and forward looking stance.
While it’s true Hillary Clinton didn’t publicly reverse her position on same-sex marriage until 2013, the “belief” questioned above was her assertion that DOMA was necessary to prevent a more restrictive constitutional amendment limiting same-sex marriage, not a belief in opposition to marriage equality. No part of the e-mail chain referenced here supports the notion that Hillary Clinton continued to privately oppose same-sex marriage despite her public-facing support for it.