Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got into a testy exchange today with “Fresh Air” radio host Terry Gross, accusing her of “playing with my words” when pressing Clinton about when, and why, she decided to support same-sex marriage.
Gross asked Clinton multiple times whether the reason she now publicly supports the issue was because her own position changed from the 1990s or because the U.S. public’s had shifted. Clinton did not answer to the satisfaction of Gross, so the host asked her repeatedly to clarify. The exchange incited a heated back and forth between the two women, and showed a rarely seen, defensive side of the potential presidential candidate.
“You know I really, I have to say, I think you’re being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said, after Gross suggested Clinton’s opinion had changed since the ’90s.
“I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand,” Gross responded.
“No,” Clinton snapped. “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 am in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like I think 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 were making.”
Gross, whose Philadelphia-based show is distributed nationally by NPR, told Clinton that’s not what she meant either. “I was saying that you maybe really, 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,” she said.
“No. That is not true,” Clinton said, audibly annoyed. “I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you did either. This was an incredible 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 about the rightness of that position. When I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”
“OK,” Gross responded. “Thank you for clarifying that.”
Earlier in the exchange, Clinton told Gross that after leaving public office she was able to announce that she was “fully in support” of gay marriage, and that she is hopeful for more progress and acceptance.
But, Clinton said, one of her “biggest 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.”
In addition, Clinton offered a slight defense of her husband’s decision to sign the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, claiming that, at the least, the law allowed states to make their own decision on gay marriage.
People “never open about new information and they like to operate in an evidence-free zone. I think it’s good if people continue to change,” Clinton added.
“In 1993,” Clinton said when asked about the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, “there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is, at least, allow the states to act. It wasn’t going to yet be recognized by the federal government but at the state level there was the opportunity.”
Clinton added, “My husband 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.”
Hillary Clinton is traveling the country on her book tour. After three events in New York City today, Clinton was scheduled to head to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C,. to promote the new memoir, “Hard Choices.”