Hillary Clinton on Saturday delivered the strongest speech in support of gay rights in the 2016 presidential race on Saturday, promising that ending discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people would be a central pillar of her administration.
”I see the injustices and the dangers that you and your families still face,” Hillary Clinton told hundreds of gay activists at the annual meeting of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay advocacy group. ”I’m running for president to stand up for the fundamental rights of LGBT Americans.”
She added: ”That’s a promise from one HRC to another.”
The statement marked a remarkable evolution for Clinton, who opposed same-sex marriage for more than two decades in public life as first lady, senator and presidential candidate. As recently as this year, Clinton said that while she personally supported gay marriage, the issue was best left for states to decide -a position held by most of the Republican presidential field.
Since then, Clinton has placed equal rights at the forefront of her campaign, in part a reflection of the growing political and financial strength of the gay community in Democratic politics.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a 2016 run, was to speak at the group’s dinner later Saturday, while Clinton was booked on the TV show ”Saturday Night Live.”
As activists chanted her name, she promised to work to pass legislation that would end discrimination, lower costs for HIV treatment and stop funding child welfare agencies that discriminate against gay parents.
She committed to pushing for equal rights in the military, including for transgender people. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the Pentagon’s current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated. He has ordered a study aimed at ending one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service.
Clinton’s remarks, particularly on the transgender issue, were some of the strongest in the presidential campaign. ”We need to say with one voice that transgender people are valued,” she said. ”They are loved and they are us.”
Clinton said Saturday that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide could be overturned, should a Republican win the White House next year and appoint conservative justices.
Clinton credited the Human Rights Campaign with influencing helping ”change a lot of minds, including mine.”
Clinton backed her husband’s Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 that denied federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples and allowed states to refuse to recognize gay marriages granted under the laws of other states. She said in a Senate speech in 2004 that marriage between a man and a woman was a ”fundamental bedrock principle.” In 2007, she dodged when asked whether she agreed with a statement from the then-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman that homosexuality was immoral.
But like much of the Democratic Party and the country, her position has shifted in recent years. As secretary of state, Clinton said at a 2011 conference in Geneva that ”gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” In April, her campaign released a statement voicing her support for making gay marriage a constitutional right.
Her pivot on the issue may give her primary opponents a chance to broadcast their liberal credentials, allowing them to point out that they came to the right side of history years before Clinton.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her main 2016 rival, voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act when he was in the House. His home state was the first to legalize same-sex unions in 2000 and gay marriage through legislative action in 2009 – both efforts Sanders backed. This spring, he told the Washington Blade that he’d make a point to talk about transgender issues during his campaign.
”All I can say is I think I have one of the strongest, if not the strongest record, in the United States Congress on LGBT issues,” Sanders said in the May interview. ”My record speaks for itself, and I will compare it to any candidate who is out there.”
Biden won praise by endorsing gay marriage ahead of the 2012 election and became the highest elected official to support what was then a highly charged political issue. Obama followed soon after.