Former President Bill Clinton has backed an effort to make New York the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

In a statement released Thursday by gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Clinton said allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to marry would strengthen the nation.

“Our nation’s permanent mission is to form a ‘more perfect union’ – deepening the meaning of freedom, broadening the reach of opportunity, strengthening the bonds of community. That mission has inspired and empowered us to extend rights to people previously denied them. Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation,” Clinton said. “Now we should do it again, in New York, with marriage equality. For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality.”

The Clinton administration was widely criticized by gay rights activists for signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that bans federal agencies from recognizing the marriages of gay couples, and “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” which bans gay and bisexual troops from serving openly in the military.

In 2009, Clinton announced he had reversed course on the issue, saying he was hung up on the word “marriage.”

At a Tuesday event, Clinton's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, announced her support for the institution.

However, earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told gay glossy The Advocate that she had not changed her position on marriage equality.