If anyone needs more ammunition for the argument that Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats miss warning signs, even in blue Maryland Robert Gates doesn't expect job in Trump administration Dean drops out of DNC chairmanship race MORE is planning to run for president, add her silence on the issue of gay marriage as the subject monopolized the news last week.
Were the secretary of State to endorse gay marriage, she would be the third Obama Cabinet secretary to do so: Education’s Arne DuncanArne DuncanLoosely regulated, charter schools pose fiscal risk Proposed Department of Education rule runs counter to ESSA's restrictions In search of the surest Common Core exit route MORE and HUD’s Shaun DonovanShaun DonovanOvernight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules Obama requests .6B in aid for Louisiana floods MORE have gone public with their support. And likely more will follow. Still, I’ll wager that Clinton will continue to search her soul until after the last vote is counted on Election Day 2016 or, at the latest, until after the last dance with First Gentleman Bill at the inaugural ball in January 2017.
Clinton being uncertain about the merits, the rightness of gay marriage is about as believable as Obama, for the lion’s share of his presidency, struggling to square his religious beliefs with same-sex nuptials.
The secretary of State obviously has other concerns on her mind. For starters, there’s the Iowa caucus in 2016. When Clinton the “inevitable” lost Iowa in 2008, she never recovered. She won’t be making that mistake again.
While Iowa, the proverbial swing state, has legalized gay marriage, it remains a volatile issue there. In 2010 voters there removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices who upheld the 2009 unanimous decision to allow same-sex marriage. Clinton can certainly see as well as anyone that Obama’s personal support of gay marriage could hurt him in Iowa this time — he easily won Iowa four years ago — and even possibly cost him the election.
When Clinton addressed a United Nations human-rights group in Geneva in December 2011, she said, movingly, “…. being LBGT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” But she specifically did not mention gay marriage in the United States or elsewhere.
Her own husband, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as a “union between one man and one woman” — into law in 1996, shortly before his reelection day in 1996, now supports same-sex marriage. I have no doubt that he wants Hillary to be president — mostly, in my opinion, to further burnish his own legacy, and to get back into the co-driver’s seat. If Bill ClintonBill ClintonArk. lawmaker wants Clintons' names removed from Little Rock airport Conway eyes top spot in Trump's outside political operation 'Tis the season for executive overreach MORE could run for a third term, he’d also still be evolving.
Clinton is far from alone in having to pretend to be not quite ready to say she believes in something she obviously believes in — has anyone ever heard so many strong Democrats advocate states rights?
Tim KaineTim KaineTerry McAuliffe: Clinton likely done with politics Becerra leaving Congress to become Calif. attorney general Kaine: 'We have to be at the table’ for recounts MORE, running against Republican George Allen for the Senate seat in Virginia, can’t come out for gay marriage if he hopes to win; neither can Bob Kerrey, or at least not completely — he said that he supports “marriage equality” but it should be left to the states — who’s running for the Senate in Nebraska and whose last major job was president of the decidedly edgy and progressive New School in New York; neither can Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDefense bill tackles retaliation against military sex assault victims Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Vulnerable Dems ready to work with Trump MORE, who’s running a tough race for reelection. She can only go so far as to say it’s a matter best left up to the states.
And then there’s Democrat Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyTrump’s vow on Medicare in doubt after HHS choice Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Red-state Democrat: I'll oppose Trump's health chief MORE, up against Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock for Sen. Dick Lugar’s seat in Indiana. Donnelly opined that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
It’s worth noting that the ever-strategic Clinton did seem last year to endorse New York’s gay-marriage law, though she offered no country-wide endorsement, appearing to advocate that New York is unlike the rest of the country and that when it came to the state she represented in the Senate, she did not need to be stuck in quite the same quandary as her president.
If reporters have been pressing Hillary Clinton on her view in light of her boss’s change of position, I haven’t seen it. I guess we’re giving the obviously overworked, overscheduled soon-to-be-former secretary of State a pass — for now.
Felsenthal, a journalist based in Chicago and author of Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog.