In last night's HRC/Logo Presidential Forum, Hillary Clinton was the only candidate not to support the full repeal of the DOMA, but instead just Section 3. She said:
And what we were able to do -- and I really give HRC a lot of credit for your leadership on this -- in stopping the federal marriage amendment gave the states the breathing room to make different decisions. So I want to proceed with equalizing federal benefits. I want to repeal Section 3 of DOMA, which stands in the way of the extension of benefits to people in committed, same-sex relationships, and, you know, I will be very strongly in favor of doing that as president.
So why just Section 3? Why not the whole thing?
Section 1 of the DOMA states the name and Section 2 says that other states can't be required to recognize the "relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage" from another state. Section 3, though, is the part that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the federal government and "spouse" as a married person of the opposite sex. So, basically, Clinton wants to make it possible for married people in Massachusetts to file their taxes jointly and to pass on their Social Security benefits to their partners, but not for that couple to move to Georgia and have the same benefits.
In other words, it works right into her states' rights position. As she said:
And, you know, for me, we have made it very clear in our country that we believe in equality. How we get to full equality is the debate we're having, and I am absolutely in favor of civil unions with full equality -- full equality of -- of benefits, rights, and privileges. And I've also been a very strong supporter of letting the states maintain their jurisdiction over marriage, and I believe that was the right decision, for a lot of reasons. Because it's easy, again, to forget that just two and a half years ago we were facing all of these referenda that were enshrining discrimination in state constitutions. And a lot of people tried very hard to fight against them and prevent them from being passed, but unfortunately, they were. Now, two and a half years later, we're beginning to see other states take different approaches.
And then when asked by Joe Solmonese if the whole states' rights thing was just a nice way of saying that she's against same-sex marriage, she said:
Absolutely. And you know, Joe, not only that; I really respect the advocacy that the community is waging on behalf of marriage. I think you're doing exactly what you need to do and should do. And I really am very much impressed by the -- you know, the intensity and the persistence of that advocacy. But this has not been a long-term struggle yet, and I think it's really clear that, you know, people in the states are moving much more rapidly to deal with the inequalities than you would find at the federal level. When you and I were plotting strategy to beat the Federal Marriage Amendment, the reason we were plotting strategy is, we were worried it was going to pass.
This is, of course, the most realistic response to the marriage question. The president isn't going to make the government recognize same-sex marriages - that's just not part of the president's job nor is it part of Congress's. The states decide who gets married, with possible intervention from the Supreme Court. Her being in favor or against same-sex marriage isn't going to change anything.
But why parse the DOMA and not just get rid of the whole thing? She probably knows more about this legislation than any of the other candidates, and she knows that when it comes to the Federal Marriage Amendment, it was Section 2 that was keeping it away (if she's to be believed that DOMA stopped FMA), not Section 3. The FMA debate was being framed by its supporters as "Judges in Massachusetts will force same-sex marriage on people in South Dakota", so it was Section 2, not Section 3, that was addressing those concerns.
Her position is not strategic anymore. Besides the fact that FMA didn't stand a chance with the GOP Congress and has even less of a non-chance with a Democratically controlled Congress, her strategy doesn't realize that no one is examining the DOMA that closely. When people who are against the law hear that she only wants to get rid of part of it, we think that she's only partly on board. When the opposition hears that she wants to get rid of part of it, they think that she's going to destroy ye olde institution of marriage.
If even I had to go to Wikipedia to find out exactly what section she's talking about, most people aren't going to know and they're going to hear their fears regarding her position on DOMA.
So at this point, her position makes no sense for any audience. She might as well just oppose the whole thing, and stop trying to justify why it's even on the books in the first place.