Why did President Clinton sign the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994 and the Defense of Marriage Act 1996 into law even though those were clearly conservative in principle?

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The relevant provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994 concerned the issue of gay men and lesbians serving in the United States armed forces. During his victorious 1992 election campaign, Bill Clinton pledged to end the ban against gay men and lesbians from serving in the military, arguing...

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The relevant provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994 concerned the issue of gay men and lesbians serving in the United States armed forces. During his victorious 1992 election campaign, Bill Clinton pledged to end the ban against gay men and lesbians from serving in the military, arguing that it was outdated and discriminatory.

After taking office, however, Clinton encountered significant opposition to his proposals from the military top brass as well as Congress. During Congressional hearings, a number of senior generals such as Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf testified against allowing gay men and lesbians into the military, claiming that it would undermine the cohesion and combat effectiveness of the armed forces by creating division.

It soon became clear that Clinton's original proposals would not get through Congress, so the President came up with a compromise, which became known as "don't ask, don't tell." The new policy, which was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994, stipulated that gay men and lesbians would be allowed to serve in the military as long as they didn't acknowledge their sexual orientation through word or deed.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allowed states to refuse or recognize same-sex marriages. Though criticizing the act as "divisive and unnecessary," President Clinton nonetheless signed it into law.

Under the circumstances, he didn't have much choice. Congress, which was controlled by the Republican Party, had passed the bill with a majority big enough to override a presidential veto. (In fact, most Democrats in Congress also supported the bill.)

Furthermore, Clinton argued that in signing the bill into law, he was defusing the momentum for an amendment to the United States Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Whereas DOMA could eventually be overturned without too much difficulty, the same could not have been said for a Constitutional amendment.

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