Bill Clinton was interrupted several
times Thursday by gay activists during a speech prompting the former
president to deliver an impassioned defense of his decision making on
gay issues while president before railing against the military's gay
Speaking at the fourth annual Netroots
Nation convention in Pittsburgh, Clinton said the nation has “entered
a new era of progressive politics” that could last decades if
measures such as health care reform can be passed by Democrats.
“We have entered a new era of
progressive politics which, if we do it right, can last 30 or 40
years,” Clinton said. “America has rapidly moved to another
place on a lot of other issues.”
Clinton, whose speech Thursday stuck
mostly to health care and climate change reform, signed into law the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that allows states to ignore
legal gay marriage and defines marriage as a heterosexual union for
the federal government, and “don't ask, don't tell,” the law that
prescribes discharge for gay and lesbian service members who do not
remain celibate or closeted.
When gay activists challenged Clinton
on the military's ban on open gay service, he became a bit ruffled,
saying that the public failed to get him support in Congress. “Now
that's the truth. That's the truth.”
“They [Congress] were about to vote
for the old policy by margins exceeding 80 percent in the House and
exceeding 70 percent in the Senate. They 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 in the military.
Let me remind you that the public opinion now is more strongly in
our favor than it was 16 years ago.”
Clinton also pointed out that Congress
nixed the “don't pursue” portion of his compromise.
“We will not pursue anyone, any
military members out of uniforms 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 mid-level
officers and down after it was promulgated and [Colin] Powell was
“Nobody regrets how this was
implemented any more than I do. … I hated what happened. I regret
it.” he said.
“I think it's ridiculous,” Clinton
said, referring to the amount of money wasted ferreting out gay
members of the military.
“This policy should be changed,” he
Last month, Clinton
also endorsed gay marriage, a flip from his long-standing civil