Clinton the latest big-name Democrat to back gay marriage

Former president Bill Clinton’s recent admission that he now supports gay marriage received plenty of attention on the Internet, but he’s only the latest big-name Democrat to switch positions on the issue.

At least 11 Senate Democrats now support marriage for homosexual couples, a five-fold increase since January 2008, when only two backed it.

Among the newest supporters: Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Christopher Dodd (Ct.), all of whom announced their new position this year. All but one from that latter group (Schumer) hails from a state that recently legalized gay marriage. No Senate Republican has publicly backed such relationships.

Clinton’s switch is significant: In 1996, he signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the option of recognizing gay marriage and defines, in federal law, marriage as being between a man and a woman. Although Clinton didn’t say he now opposes that law, he did say he has changed on the core issue.

Clinton’s new position came to light after speaking at the Campus Progress National Conference July 8. While shaking hands, Clinton was asked by amateur journalist Michael Tracey if he would commit his support to gay marriage. Tracey recorded the interview and wrote a column about it at

“I’m basically in support,” Clinton said. “I don’t think any state should be suffering, and I think all these states that do it should do it. It’s not a federal question. I don’t think the Congress …”

“But personally – personally do you support it?” Tracey asked.

“Yeah,” Clinton replied.

“President Clinton, you personally support same-sex marriage?” Tracey asked.

“I personally support people doing what they want to do,” Clinton responded. “… I think it’s wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that. That’s what I think.”

In May, Clinton, while speaking in Canada, had said his stance on the issue was “evolving.” Just five years ago – as recounted in a Newsweek book about the 2004 election – Clinton had urged then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to back a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a move that Clinton felt would pull in votes from conservative states.

Kerry, though, rejected the move, telling aides, “I’m not going to ever do that.”

Clinton’s running-mate, former vice president Al Gore, announced his support for “gay marriage” in January 2008. That month, only two U.S. senators – Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin – publicly supported gay marriage. But that changed later that year, when Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California announced their support after California’s highest court legalized such relationships (a decision later overturned by voters).

Then, in the November elections (and a subsequent recount in Minnesota), two candidates who backed gay marriage during the campaign – Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Al Franken (Minn.) – won.

Gay marriage proponents got another supporter in January when Kirsten Gillibrand took the N.Y. senate seat vacated when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. The additions of Leahy, Schumer, Harkin and Dodd is noteworthy because all four voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Schumer was a representative at the time. Boxer, Feinstein, Kennedy and Feingold voted against it.

House SpeakerNancy Pelosi also backs gay marriage.

Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Copyright 2009, SBC, Baptist Press,


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