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September 1, 2014

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Clinton defends initial resistance to gay marriage

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AP Photo/Richard Drew

Hillary Clinton participates in a conversation about her career in government and her new book, “Hard Choices,” at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, Thursday, June 12, 2014.

NEW YORK — Hillary Rodham Clinton tersely defended her initial opposition to gay marriage, denying in a radio interview that political reasons were behind her shift last year to supporting same-sex marriage. She accused the host of the show of "playing with my words."

"I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you did either," Clinton told National Public Radio's Terry Gross during an interview broadcast Thursday on "Fresh Air."

"This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay right movement began to talk about and slowly, but surely, convinced others about the rightness of that position," she added. "When I was ready to say what I said, I said it."

The exchange came during Clinton's media tour supporting her new book, "Hard Choices," about the former first lady and senator's time as President Barack Obama's secretary of state. Clinton has said she'll decide later this year whether to make a second run for president.

In 2008, Clinton, Barack Obama and other Democratic presidential candidates opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, although they endorsed versions of civil unions.

In March 2013, Clinton released a video expressing her support for gay marriage, shortly after she left the State Department. As the nation's top diplomat, Clinton refrained from weighing in on domestic politics but she won praise from gay rights organizations for bringing attention to LGBT issues around the globe and within the State Department.

But the former first lady's announcement came after Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and several prominent Democrats — along with Republicans like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — had stated their support for same-sex marriage.

The NPR interview became tense when Gross asked Clinton repeatedly about her shift to support gay marriage. At one point, Clinton told Gross: "I think you're being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue." Gross said she was trying to clarify Clinton's views on the issue.

"No, I don't think you are trying to clarify," Clinton responded. "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 you are implying and repudiate it."

Clinton added: "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."

Gross noted that Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denied gay couples a range of federal marriage benefits.

The former New York senator said the nation is "living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country." She said that in 1993, at the start of her husband's presidency, "that was not the case."

Gross asked Clinton if her views had evolved since the 1990s.

Clinton said, "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 was appearing at several events in New York to promote her book. At the Council on Foreign Relations, she said Iraq had turned into a "dreadful, deteriorating situation" and that she "could not have predicted" the effectiveness of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to seize territory and try to "erase boundaries to create an Islamic state."

Later Thursday, she and daughter Chelsea were honored at a Wildlife Conversation Society gala for their efforts to save African elephants from poaching.

Weighing her future, Clinton said in an interview set to air on "CBS Sunday Morning" that she learned in 2008 that the "American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world." But she told NPR she wouldn't be deterred "by the blood sport of politics."

Asked about Republican Karl Rove's recent questioning of her health or false suggestions by Republicans that she was using a walker in a People magazine cover photo, Clinton said, "I am so used to these people."

"They are like a bunch of, you know, gamers. They are constantly trying to raise false canards, plant false information. That's what they do," Clinton said, accusing her opponents of diverting attention. "If that's the best they have to offer, let them do it."

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