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How The Clinton White House Dealt With Same-Sex Weddings In 1999

On Thursday, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, released thousands of documents about "gay marriage" and the Defense of Marriage Act. Here are some of the documents BuzzFeed News found.

Originally posted on
Updated on

The year was 1999.

Three years earlier, President Bill Clinton, who opposed same-sex couples' marriage rights at the time, had signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law — banning the federal government from recognizing such marriages.

But, same-sex couples were still out there — holding commitment ceremonies and, for some, weddings. More than a handful of those couples invited Clinton to their ceremony or wedding.

What to do?


2. Describe the policy and why it's a problem.

The actual policy of the Clinton White House was to take same-sex couples' wedding invitations, put them in a file, and do nothing else with them.

Then, Kelley Van Auken came along and was having none of it. Van Auken had served as the director of volunteers and worked in the Greetings Office in the Clinton White House. She died in 2014.

Her solution to the same-sex couples' wedding invite problem — a solution she saw as entirely consistent with DOMA — was to send such couples cards letting them know the president was joining them in celebrating their "Special Day."

But then, Van Auken learned that decisions in DC get complicated.


Van Auken's boss was "fuzzy" on the policy.

Van Auken was undeterred.

The issue was taken to the counsel's office. Lawyers reviewed whether Clinton, legally, could celebrated same-sex couples' "Special Days."


There is no greater moment than when a staffer gets the "ok to proceed" email.

This article was updated to provide additional information about Kelley Van Auken.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at

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