Photo by Andrés Duque
While delivering the keynote address at the Netroots Nation 09 conference in Pittsburgh, former president Bill Clinton was interrupted by a question on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. Washington D.C.-based netroots gay activist and blogger Lane Hudson yelled: "Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' right now?"
Clinton joked that Hudson, who was heckled by some in the audience, should take his behavior to a town hall meeting on health care reform, then explained he "didn't have any choice at the time" and "nobody regrets how this was implemented anymore than I do."
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.
When Gen. 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, '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 [due to] enormous reaction against it among the middle-level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone.
On DOMA, the former president maintains he was attempting to block a constitutional marriage amendment: "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 that 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."
Writing at Firedoglake and the Huffington Post, Lane Hudson says he was "shocked" by the response from fellow progressives: "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 the rights of a minority."
Lane Hudson adds: "What happened that was really important, however, is that President Clinton did address the issues that I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have without my forcing the conversation."
AFTER THE JUMP, via Firedoglake, video of the exchange.