Our journey with the Clintons on gay rights

Story highlights

  • This week, the Supreme Court will hear two historic cases about marriage equality
  • Donna Brazile: The Clintons show us it's OK to evolve and to stand on the right side of history
  • She says President Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, now says it needs to go
  • Brazile: Hillary Clinton also supports gay rights; now it's up to the Supreme Court justices

Sometimes, a First Family remains a first family -- a mirror of our times -- even after the president leaves office. So it is with the Clintons.

This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases about marriage equality. One is a challenge to California's Proposition 8, a law passed in 2008 that bans same-sex marriage in the country's most populous state. The other is about a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents all legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving the more than 1,000 federal rights, benefits and obligations that come from marriage. That means no joint tax returns, no joint Social Security and no military survivor benefits for gay and lesbian military families, just to name a few.

These are huge cases. We're at one of those decisive national moments that you read about in textbooks as a kid—moments where we come together as a country and never fail to rise to the occasion to build a more perfect union.

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The moment is made even more historic by the long journey we've traveled as a country to get to this point. Today, 58% of Americans support marriage equality, and that number jumps to 81% when you only count people under 30. But support wasn't always that decisive. As recently as 2004, the Republican Party actively exploited divided public opinion on the issue and focused President George W. Bush's re-election campaign on fiddling with our Constitution to explicitly define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Donna Brazile

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But that was then. America has dramatically changed for the better. And more often than not, the change hasn't come from courts or from Congress -- it's come from conversations in pews, PTA meetings and around dinner tables. America has gotten to know gay and lesbian people, and we've come to love them as ourselves.

Opinions have evolved, and sometimes those evolutions have been challenging and painful, but they have always been honest. By now, nearly every American has thought about these issues or come to a different view. It is through deeply personal transformations that we've arrived at this historic moment.

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This brings me to my main point. The American people respect the Clintons because they've walked this journey with us. They've debated with us and struggled with us, and they've shown us it's OK to evolve and to stand on the right side of history.

Earlier this month, President Bill Clinton published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "It's time to overturn DOMA." It took a lot of courage. After all, Clinton signed the law in 1996.

Clinton reversal on DOMA
Clinton reversal on DOMA

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Today, nearly two decades later, he looked back on the law he signed and concluded, "I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned." Millions of Americans know exactly how the man feels. After all, they too once opposed equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and now they join him in wanting to make things right.

And just this week, Hillary Clinton broke new ground. As secretary of state, she was the first in American history to declare to the United Nations that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." Now, in a video produced for the Human Rights Campaign, she took the last big step and fully embraced marriage equality, arguing that discriminating against "any of our daughters and sons solely on the basis of who they are and who they love is to deny them the chance to live up to their own God-given potential."

Hillary Clinton backs same-sex marriage
Hillary Clinton backs same-sex marriage

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The Clintons have walked this journey alongside the country they have spent a lifetime serving, and it only makes us respect them more. When the nine justices of the Supreme Court take their seats to hear the two landmark cases this week, Bill and Hillary will surely be looking on — two citizens out of hundreds of millions watching and waiting for justice.

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