Bill Clinton Talks About His Role On DADT and DOMA

Jim Burroway

August 14th, 2009

Former president Bill Clinton spoke yesterday as the keynote speaker at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh. His speech was interrupted by a question from LGBT activist Lane Hudson, asking Clinton about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Clinton was definitely put off about being interrupted, but when he finally got around to answering the question, Clinton pointed out that DADT passed Congress by a veto-proof majority in both houses, the result, he said, of inadequate LGBT lobbying in Congress at the time. I think he’s right on this one. He has gotten the blame for DADT’s passage, when it actually came about by a Democratically-controlled Congress acting to block his initiative to allow gays to serve in the military. And indeed, DADT did pass with a veto-proof majority, which removed his role in the matter.

But that doesn’t hold true for DOMA. Clinton says that he “didn’t like signing DOMA,” but did so to head off “a very reactionary Congress” which, he said, was set to pass a constitutional amendment. But he didn’t address why his 1996 presidential campaign purchased advertising on Christian and right wing radio bragging signing DOMA into law as proof of his “pro-family” credentials.

Update: Lane Hudson posted on Firedog Lake about why he interrupted Clinton’s speech:

I love Bill Clinton, but we all make mistakes. Sometimes we even are forced to do things we don\’t want to. That\’s why I was prepared to ask Bill Clinton a tough question last night as he delivered the opening keynote address at Netroots Nation 2009.

But it became clear there would be no questions. As I sat in the audience thinking about how Netroots Nation is about celebrating the most open forum of discussion ever to exist, it occurred to me that we were nothing more than a captive audience being talked to. One way communication was NOT what we were there to celebrate and advance.

Lane is certainly right about one thing: It’s pretty dumb to expect bloggers to sit down, shut up, and just listen. It’s even dumber when that same message comes from fellow bloggers and activists:

The immediate response shocked me at the time and still does. Those surrounding me yelled at me, booed, and told me to sit down. One elderly lady even told me to leave. While I was among the supposed most progressive audience in the country, they sought to silence someone asking a former President to speak out on behalf of repealing two laws that TOOK AWAY RIGHTS OF A MINORITY. I was shocked.

What was that expression about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable?

The transcript below is courtesy of Andrés Duque:

Lane Hudson: Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and “Don\’t Ask Don\’t Tell” right now? Please…

President Clinton: Hey, you know, you ought to go to one of those congressional health care meetings. You did really well there. I\’ll be glad to talk about that. If you will… If you will sit down and let me talk, I\’ll be glad to discuss it. But if you stand up and scream I won\’t be able to talk. But the other guys would love to have ya. I wanna talk a little about that too.

But anyway, so, here we are in a different world. Now, it\’s not like the 1990\’s. You wanna talk about ‘Don\’t Ask Don\’t Tell\’, I\’ll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn\’t deliver me any support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the congress. Now, that\’s the truth.

Secondly – it\’s true! – You know, you may have noticed that presidents aren\’t dictators. They voted – they were about to vote for the old policy – by margins exceeding 80% in the House and exceeding 70% in the Senate. The gave test votes out there to send me a message that they were going to reverse any attempt I made by executive order to force them to accept gays into the military. And let me remind you that the public opinion is now more strongly in our favor than it was sixteen years ago and I have continued supporting it. That John Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under me, was against “Don\’t A..” – was against letting gays serve – is now in favor of it. This is a different world. That\’s the point I\’m trying to make.

Let me also say something that never got sufficient publicity at the time. When General Colin Powell came up with this ‘Don\’t Ask Don\’t Tell\’ it was defined while he was Chairman much differently than it was implemented. He said that, if you will accept this, here is what we\’ll do. We will not pursue anyone, any military members out of uniform will be free to march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings, whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives, none of this will be a basis for dismissal. It all turned out to be a fraud because of the enormous reaction against it among the middle level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So nobody regrets how this was implemented even more… anymore than I do. But the congress also put that into law by a veto-proof majority and many of your friends voted for that, believing the explanation about how it would be eliminated. So, I hated what happened. I regret it. But I didn\’t have, I didn\’t think at the time, any choice if I wanted any progress to be made at all. Look, I think it\’s ridiculous. Can you believe they spent – what did they spend? – 150,000 dollars to get rid of a valuable Arabic speaker recently?

And, you know, the thing that changed me forever on ‘Don\’t Ask Don\’t Tell\’ was when I learned that 130 gay service people were allowed to serve and risk their lives in the 1st Gulf War and all their commanders knew they were gay, they let them go and risk their lives ’cause they needed them, and then as soon as the 1st Gulf War was over, they kicked them out. That\’s all I needed to know, that\’s all anybody needs to know, to know that this policy should be changed.
Now, while we\’re at it, let me say one thing about DOMA, since you… The reason I signed DOMA was, and I said when I signed it, that I thought the question of whether gays should marry should be left out to states and the religious organizations, and if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage they ought to. We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the Levin referendum much later in 2004, in the election, which the Republicans put on the ballot, to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it\’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican congress presenting that. The President doesn\’t even get to veto that. It\’s the Congress can refer constitutional amendments to the states. I didn\’t like signing DOMA, and I certainly didn\’t like the constraints it would put on benefits, and I\’ve done everything I\’ve could, and I am proud to say that the State Department was the first federal department to restore benefits to gay partners in the Obama administration, and I think we are going forward in the right direction now for federal employees, and I don\’t like that eith… I don\’t like the DOMA.

But actually all these things illustrate the point I was trying to make. America has rapidly moved to a different place to a lot of these issues and so what we have to decide is what we are going to do about it.


August 14th, 2009

Jim, so would you suggest that all bloggers just go to meetings and start to yell out questions and demand answers whenever they feel like it?

Lane wasn’t interested in debate, he was interested in the spotlight.

“While I was among the supposed most progressive audience in the country, they sought to silence someone asking a former President to speak out on behalf of repealing two laws that TOOK AWAY RIGHTS OF A MINORITY.”

They sought to silence someone who was acting like a right-wing town hall loon.

Jim Burroway

August 14th, 2009

If you’ll read Lane’s post, you’ll find that he expected a question-and-answer session, a very common and reasonable expectation for forums like this.

What’s more, this was a blogger’s convention — you know, those people who who ask questions, form opinions, and express them, using an interactive medium. This isn’t a passive crowd, nor should it be. I mean seriously, would we expect a president to speak in front of a bunch of journalist and not take questions? Don’t be silly. The whole setup should have been taken as an insult to the bloggers and other activists for whom the whole convention was designed.

Should Lane and others have stood up and interrupted the speech if there was a Q&A scheduled? Certainly not. But that’s not what we have here. Given the answer Lane elicited from the president on a topic which, it appears, the president was not going to touch on, then I’m glad he did what he did.

To go further, comparing Lane to the Townhall crazies is ridiculous. In no way was he trying to shut down debate the way the healthcare “deathers” are doing — in forums, by the way, which are designed as Q&As but the “Deathers” aren’t treating it as such. Lane, on the other hand, was asking a question, and not shutting down debate. The analogy couldn’t be more wrong.

As for me, I still want to hear Clinton’s explanation for why he bragged about signing DOMA on Christian and right wing talk radio.

Jim Burroway

August 14th, 2009

And by the way, I have a hunch that if Lane had interrupted a speech by George Bush with the exact same question, everyone would be cheering their socks off.


August 14th, 2009

Actually Jim, people aren’t sure why he expected there to be a Q&A session. There was no indication one would take place. People went there to hear the President speak.

President Clinton gives speeched to activists all the time and doesn’t do a Q&A. Please stop thinking of bloggers as reporters…it’s just, well, silly.


August 14th, 2009

“And by the way, I have a hunch that if Lane had interrupted a speech by George Bush with the exact same question, everyone would be cheering their socks off.”

Actually I would have scratched my head in confusion. Bush didn’t sign DOMA and he wasn’t President during the creation of DADT.

But let’s assume he asked something more relevant to gay rights re: gay rights. No. I didn’t like it when gay activists started screaming out slogans during Bush speeches. I didn’t like it when they started rolling out banners and yelling questions. It only makes us look like little kids.

Rick G

August 14th, 2009

Hi, long-time reader, first-time poster here :)

Sorry, but I agree with Mike. While I applaud Lane’s sentiment, he exercised poor judgement disrupting the session and immaturity in trying to justify it afterwards. I attend a lot of conferences (speak at a fair number as well) and can tell you from experience that “keynote” doesn’t automatically translate to “Q&A.” If Lane, or anyone else, had a problem with that they should have directed those comments to the conference organizers (who usually have reps at high profile sessions like this stationed all over the room). If that wasn’t possible, a far more civil tactic would have been to wait until President Clinton had finished his speech and shout out something to effect of “Mr. President, one question please…” as he was wrapping up. I’m sure at that point someone from the conference would have taken the podium and indicated if the President would take questions.

In addition, I think the comparisons to the town hall “loons” is accurate. The intended effect is the same, so I find it difficult to excuse Lane simply because I agree with his politics. Civil discourse in the country is an endangered species. It’s a little disappointing when those who advocate for our community are the ones pulling the trigger.

Just my two cents.


August 14th, 2009

Lane Hudson’s behavior was rude and boorish. He also missed the point: the mess Clinton made of trying to change the military’s policy on homosexuality only shows the foolishness of trying to repeal the ban on homosexuals. Forbidding homosexuals to serve in the military is good, sensible policy – and even if, for the sake of argument, it was not, I still cannot see why gay rights organizations would care quite so passionately about this issue, given that it affects only a small minority of the homosexual population. I can’t help suspecting that it is partly a symbolic issue – they want to show that gays can be real men, or whatever, and that is clouding their judgment.


August 14th, 2009

You’re right Quo, it is a good, sensible policy. Just like it was a good, sensible policy to bar women from military service. Just like it was a good, sensible policy to bar African Americans from service. After all, we wouldn’t want a military full of talented people who wish to fulfill a patriotic duty, what we want is a military of people who fit arbitrary and pointless restrictions.


August 14th, 2009

Quo – DADT will be repealed within a few months according to Dan Murphy:

And it bothers all people who support equality because it is wrong to discriminate against one segment of society.

But you are an obvious troll, and you know that already.

David C.

August 14th, 2009

Forbidding homosexuals to serve in the military is good, sensible policy….—Quo

Based on what rationale?


August 14th, 2009

I disagree with you one point, Jim: DADT passed by a veto-proof majority in the House, but not the Senate where it received 63 votes in favor, 33 opposed and 4 were absent.


August 14th, 2009

“I still cannot see why gay rights organizations would care quite so passionately about this issue, given that it affects only a small minority of the homosexual population.”

Dude. Our entire cause is a minority one, it’s pretty obvious why we care, because we care about everyone, not just our own individual hides.

I have a LOT of gay friends in the military or who were former militarymen. Remember a lot of people enlist because it’s one way to get an education if you’ve been kicked out your family because they “love” you so much.

It’s not about making a point. These are real people we’re talking about who end up risking far more than their comrades in arms because of this mentally retarded policy.

Ben in Oakland

August 14th, 2009

Quo is just saying that they wouldn’t let him into the military, and that it’s probably a good idea not to let him in.

He should know.

Steven S

August 14th, 2009

So if I get this correct, Clinton signed both because a veto would have been overriden.
And it’s every gay person’s fault that they passed in the first place.
Well, he’s a politician…what else should I expect? Courage, conviction or doing what’s right? Too much to ask…


August 14th, 2009

True. Who cares if it would get overridden. If he cared about principles he would have gone down on the record with a veto and forced their hand.

Ben in Oakland

August 14th, 2009

or at least, let it become law without his signature.

Jason D

August 14th, 2009

“I still cannot see why gay rights organizations would care quite so passionately about this issue,”

because we shouldn’t be turning away or firing willing, qualified, skilled, team-oriented, dedicated, and in many cases — highly decorated — men and women for something as insignificant as their sexual orientation.

The only way it’s sensible policy is if prejudice and bigotry are more important than having highly qualified people serving their country.


August 14th, 2009


When the U.S. military discharges a perfectly capable, highly trained, and desperately needed soldier because of something that does not affect his or her job performance in any way (i.e., sexual orientation), it affects every American citizen, not just “a small minority of the homosexual population,” because it means there is one less person protecting you from foreign threats. Ending DADT is not just a gay rights issue and it is certainly not a “symbolic” issue; it is a national security issue.


August 14th, 2009

Go Lane! I completely support you. Lane asked Bill if he would support the repeal of DADT and DOMA and Bill launched an attack on gay people. Everything Bill said were lies. He told gay people not to worry about DADT, that he and congress got every under control. Then at the last minute things went wrong and we ended up with DADT. Bill Clinton is at fault for not working with gay people to push Congress. In 1996, he traveled across the country touting his success in passing DOMA.


August 15th, 2009

35 Senators voted to repeal the military ban entirely in 1993. It only takes 34 to sustain a veto. Bill Clinton was lying when he said a presidential veto would have been overridden.

Jim Burroway

August 15th, 2009

From Clinton’s point of view, he appears to be correct when saying that DADT arrived at his desk with a veto-proof majority from both houses. As far as I’m able to determine — and if someone knows differently, please chime in — the 1994 Defense Authorization Act appear to have arrived on the Senate floor with the ban already in place. The 63-33 vote that readers have mentioned was to defeat an amendment to that bill that Sen. Barbara Boxer offered which would have allowed the president to decide the policy on gays in the military. DADT therefore arrived on the President’s desk as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994, which passed the Senate on a 77-22 vote. Since there’s no such thing as a line-item veto, DADT legally arrived at his desk with a veto-proof majority.

His DOMA defense is much less convincing. He still hasn’t explained why he bragged about signing DOMA to right-wing audiences. That certainly did not arrive with a veto-proof majority.


August 15th, 2009

Thanks for standing up Lane. It takes real courage to confront power.


August 15th, 2009

Thanks for standing up Lane. It takes real courage to confront power.

But that’s not what Lane did.


August 16th, 2009

I’m with Lane here. And, in a way, this helps remind critics of Clinton the context of those decisions – right now he gets the bulk of the blame, fair or unfair.


August 17th, 2009


“But you are an obvious troll, and you know that already.”

Trolls are people who say outrageous and provocative things simply to annoy others and get attention. That isn’t me, because, believe it or not, I actually believe what I am saying. I honestly do think that homosexuals should be forbidden to join the military.

I hold that position for many reasons, one of which is that letting gays into the military will help to produce a backlash against homosexuals over the long term, even if it doesn’t seem to immediately cause problems.


August 17th, 2009

Maybe it *is* a good idea to keep gays out of the military… keep them here and safe from harm :-)
Of course, ya gotta respect these people even more because they’re willing to risk their necks for a country that doesn’t even want to give them the same rights afforded to people’s little doggies.


August 17th, 2009


You are a either a troll or just plain stupid…I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. Many nations allow their gay and lesbian citizens to serve openly and there hasn’t been any issues or backlash.

Keep digging in your box of hate to find a better reason that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to serve.


August 17th, 2009


Believing in what you say doesn’t mean that your comments are any less outrageous, provocative, or annoying.

I sincerely hope you’ll learn to stop hating yourself.

Ben in Oakland

August 17th, 2009

“I hold that position for many reasons, one of which is that letting gays into the military will help to produce a backlash against homosexuals over the long term, even if it doesn’t seem to immediately cause problems.”

As if we haven’t been getting backlashed by homobigots for 2000 years or so.

Actually, quo, since the closet is the enemy, I suspect that once gay people are serving openly, only a few homobigots will be visible.


August 17th, 2009

Quo, don’t listen to people berating you for hating yourself. We all do that, and we must learn to live with it.

But of all the dubious things I have read from you, this one takes the biscuit. A field-ration dry biscuit.

The only rationale you have given is the pragmatic one that assumes everyone else is a homophobe. It’s just like the argument made that Obama should not be chosen in the primaries because in such a racist nation the Democrats would then go to lose. Basically, it forms a vicious circle by which not only the discrimination persists but everyone is confirmed in their low opinion of each other.

So either find a better reason or admit that the fact that this policy excludes gays without actively harming them (one might think looking from the outside) is clouding your judgement.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.