How NPR's Terry Gross Created A False Impression That Hillary Clinton Stonewalled On Marriage Equality

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

By repeatedly asking the same question, NPR correspondent Terry Gross created the false impression that Hillary Clinton was stonewalling and dodging over the issue of marriage equality, despite the fact that Clinton consistently and repeatedly answered Gross' question.

As a senator and during her 2008 presidential run, Clinton supported civil unions for same-sex couples and opposed marriage equality. In a March 2013 statement, she announced that "I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law." She explained that her travels as secretary of state and her daughter's wedding had been key to her changing her opinion on the issue. 

Gross' central question was whether Clinton changed her publicly stated position and supported gay marriage out of political expedience, a question she asked seven separate times during an NPR interview. Clinton consistently rejected Gross' characterization throughout the interview, instead saying that her views on the issue changed over time.

From NPR's June 12 interview with Hillary Clinton (transcript via Nexis, emphasis added):

TERRY GROSS: Were there positions you believed in as senator but you couldn't publicly support because you felt that it wasn't time yet? That the positions would have been too unpopular? That the public wasn't ready in regards to LGBT rights? And, you know, I often think that there are politicians who, you know, in their heart really support it but don't publicly support it.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I was fully on board with ending discrimination in the workplace on behalf of the LGBT community. I did not support gay marriage when I was in the Senate or running for president, as you know, and as President Obama and others held the same position. But it, for me, became an opportunity to do what I could as secretary of state to make the workplace fairer - something I had always supported and spoke out about. And then when I was out of the secretary of state position and once again free to comment on domestic matters, I very shortly came out in favor of fully equality, including gay marriage.

TERRY GROSS: So what's it like when you're in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage that you actually believe in? And you obviously feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn't support it - correct me if I'm reading it wrong.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think you're reading it very wrong. I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, you know, just because you're a politician, doesn't mean you're not a thinking human being. And you gather information. You think through positions. You're not 100 percent set - thank goodness - you're constantly reevaluating where you stand. That was true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states. And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state-by-state and in fact that is what is working. And I think that, you know, being in the position that I was in the Senate - fighting employment discrimination, which we still have some ways to go - was appropriate at that time.

As secretary of state, I was out of domestic politics and I was certainly doing all I could on the international scene to raise the importance of the human rights of the LGBT community. And then leaving that position, I was able to, you know, very quickly announce that I was fully in support of gay marriage and that it is now continuing to proceed state-by-state.

And I am very, very hopeful that we will make progress and see even, you know, more change and acceptance. One of my big problems right now is that too many people believe they have a direct line to the divine and they never want to change their mind about anything. They're never open to new information and they like to operate in an evidence-free zone. And I think it's good if people continue to change.

TERRY GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it's the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA - the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?

HILLARY CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let's - we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country. I'm proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn't going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that's what we're doing.

TERRY GROSS: So just to clarify - just one more question on this - would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?

HILLARY CLINTON: I think I'm an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it's been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.

TERRY GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the '90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.

HILLARY CLINTON: But not - to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast - by historic terms - social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward - maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established. Although there will be places.


HILLARY CLINTON: Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle.

TERRY GROSS: I'm pretty sure you didn't answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed (Laughing).

HILLARY CLINTON: I said I'm an American, so of we all evolved. And I think that that's a fair, you know, that's a fair conclusion.

TERRY GROSS: So you're saying your opinion on gay marriage changed as opposed to you - you just felt it was comfortable...

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody's always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn't mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have.

TERRY GROSS: So that's one for you changed your mind? (Laughing).

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I really - I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.

TERRY GROSS: I am just trying to clarify so I can understand.

HILLARY CLINTON: No, I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you're trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I'm in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I've done and the progress we're making.

TERRY GROSS: You know, I'm just saying - I'm sorry - I just want to clarify what I was saying - no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but - you know, believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn't ready yet and you couldn't say it. That's what I was thinking.

HILLARY CLINTON: No. No, that is not true.


HILLARY CLINTON: I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.

TERRY GROSS: OK, thank you for clarifying that. 

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