Hillary Clinton to NPR host: It is "flat wrong" to say that I supported equal marriage for "political reasons"

"I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we're making"

By Katie McDonough
Published June 12, 2014 9:13PM (EDT)
  (AP/Gerald Herbert)
(AP/Gerald Herbert)

A Thursday exchange between Hillary Clinton and "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross got mildly tense when the issue turned to Clinton's evolving position on marriage equality. Gross seemed interested in the political calculus involved in the timing of Clinton's coming out in favor of equal marriage, whereas Clinton didn't seem that eager to concede the point.

“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?" Gross asked Clinton.

“I think I’m an American. I think that we have all evolved, and it’s been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations that I’m aware of," Clinton replied.

“I understand, but a lot of people believed in it already back in the '90s," Gross responded. "They supported gay marriage.”

“To be fair, Terry, not that many," Clinton said. "You know, 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."

“I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand," Gross said.

"No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify," Clinton said. "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 we're making.”

“I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you did either," she added. "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.”

Who can fault Clinton for being evasive? As Jessica Valenti pointed out this week in her review of Clinton's "Hard Choices," all politicians are cautious about their public image and positions, and the standard for female politicians is even more brutal. But it would have been refreshing to hear Clinton -- or really any politician -- speak candidly about this issue. To say, "I didn't support it before because I didn't understand it before. Activism from the LGBTQ community helped me see this issue for what it is. I'm grateful for that." Or even, "I personally supported equal marriage decades before I announced that support because I was afraid it would hurt my career in politics. At the time, I thought the position wasn't politically viable. Maybe it was cowardly. I am glad I had the courage to change course. I am glad the public helped me find that courage."

You can listen to the exchange here:

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Equal Marriage Fresh Air Gay Marriage Hillary Clinton Marriage Equality Npr Terry Gross Video