Clinton: Gay marriage support not political

Greg Nash

Hillary Clinton on Thursday denied that she held back her support for gay marriage until it was politically safe to do so.

During an NPR interview, the possible 2016 contender said she advocated for gay rights as secretary of State, a position that did not involve domestic politics. When she left the department, she quickly endorsed it, she said. 

"No, that is not true," Clinton said in a testy exchange with NPR host Terry Gross. "I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage, and I don't think you probably did either." 

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"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."

America Rising, a GOP opposition research firm, recorded the exchange. 

Clinton announced her support for gay marriage in March 2013 after leaving the State Department amid a flurry of lawmakers announcing their support as the Supreme Court weighed the constitutionality of a pair of gay marriage cases. 

She said people who express their support late are not any less committed to the cause.

"Somebody is always first, Terry, somebody is always first, and thank goodness they are,” she said. “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," she said. 

Clinton wholly denied there was a political calculation in her announcement. 

"I think you are being very persistent but you are playing with my words, playing with what is such an important issue," Clinton said at one point. "No, I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I'm in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that is just flat wrong."

Gross had been asking a separate question about whether Clinton had secretly supported gay marriage all along but held it back publicly until it gained popular support. 

Clinton said "of course" she supported the Supreme Court striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband signed in the 1990s. She defended the law's passage at the time, saying there was a concerted effort by Republicans to impose even greater discrimination on gay people without it. 

The law defined marriage as between one man and one woman on the federal level. However, it left states with the opportunity to pass or deny gay marriage. 

"My husband was the first to say, 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," Clinton said. 

Since the Supreme Court ruling, a number of judges around the country have struck down their state bans. Twenty states, with the inclusion of Wisconsin, allow gay marriage. Judges in a number of other states have invalidated state bans pending appeal.