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defending marriage equality

President Bill Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

The LGBT community has welcomed the positive changes that have occurred under President Obama. I want those policies to continue and widen to include all LGBT folk .

During the 1992 presidential election, Bob Ravsky, a member of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which became the nation's most prominent AIDS protest group, confronted candidate Bill Clinton at a New York City fundraiser. According to Vito Russo, best known for his book The Celluloid Closet, Rafsky told Bill, "We're not dying of AIDS as much as we are dying of 11 years of government neglect." Bill replied: "I feel your pain." Two days later, he met with members of ACT UP and other activists to discuss his AIDS policies and agreed to make a major AIDS policy speech and to have people with HIV speak to the Democratic Convention...”

Also, during the campaign, Bill had endorsed permitting gays to serve openly in the military. The president-elect indicated that he intended to issue this executive order as one of his first acts in the White House.

This was not to be. His incoming administration found itself under attack from the military, led by its highest-ranking officer, General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Politicians in both houses of Congress and on both sides of aisle, led by U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), Chair of the Armed Services Committee, warned that if he issued an executive order, he would be choosing to start his administration with a high-profile battle against a Democratic-controlled Congress!

In a January 1993 televised press conference, Bill began his remarks using a surprising scientific term, “The debate over to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military...” He ended by announcing a compromise and accepting a congressional policy which we know as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and putting in it place in July 1993. It allowed closeted members of the military to serve, while prohibiting those in the military who were openly gay to serve. (Prior to DADT there had been an outright ban on gays in the military.)

“It is not a perfect solution,” Bill said as he announced the policy. “It is not identical with some of my own goals. And it certainly will not please everyone, perhaps not anyone, and clearly not those who hold the most adamant opinions on either side of this issue.” He called DADT “a major step forward.” In 2010, Bill said he regretted the policy.

Any political party adopting a platform which demeans or discriminates against LGBT folk or supports or advances legislation to amend the Constitution to abridge our rights, needs to be challenged.

Later in 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a measure repealing DADT. “I hope those ... who’ve been discharged under this discriminatory policy will seek to re-enlist once the repeal is implemented,” Obama said as he signed the bill into law. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” officially ended in September 2011.

In September 1996, two months before the 1996 presidential election, Bill Clinton signed into federal law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. Even though he considered it a gay-baiting measure, he was unwilling to risk re-election by vetoing it.

The 1996 Republican Party platform endorsed DOMA, demanding that, "We reject the distortion of laws to cover sexual preference, and we endorse the Defense of Marriage Act to prevent states from being forced to recognize same-sex unions." The Democratic Party platform that year did not mention DOMA.

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The “Defense of Marriage” bill moved through the Republican-controlled Congress with overwhelming approval in both houses. On July 1996, in the House, with only 65 Democrats (plus Rep. Bernie Sanders) in opposition,

the U.S. House of Representatives passed it. A few months later 84 Senators - a majority of the Democratic Senators and all of the Republicans - sealed the demise of marriage equality and passed DOMA.

Bill’s actions were the source of disdain with the LGBT community. It took many years, but finally, in 2013, he disavowed DOMA completely and urged that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court.

The New York Times reported,

“Rarely has a former president declared that an action he took in office violated the Constitution. But Mr. Clinton’s journey from signing the Defense of Marriage Act to repudiating it mirrors larger changes in society as same-sex marriage has gone from a fringe idea to one with a majority.

“President Clinton has evolved on this issue just like every American has evolved,” said Chad Griffin, who worked as a junior press aide in Mr. Clinton’s White House and now heads the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most prominent gay rights organization.”

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key section of a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples “forcefully criticizing what it called unconstitutional discrimination.” The 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act was invalidated. That measure, the court declared, existed primarily "to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage."

We will fight to retain these gains. There is no going back. Any political party adopting a platform which demeans or discriminates against LGBT folk or supports or advances legislation to amend the Constitution to abridge our rights, needs to be challenged. Any candidate running on that platform or who does not disavow that type of legislation needs to answer to all Americans.

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I am voting to continue fighting for our community to be given full civil and human rights under the law.

Carl Matthes