WASHINGTON -- Six Democratic senators have announced their support for same-sex marriage in nearly as many days, policy reversals that reflect the changing politics of the issue as the Supreme Court hears arguments in potential landmark cases.
Since Sunday, Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina issued statements in support of marriage equality, bringing to 47 the total number of senators now in favor. That total includes just one Republican, Rob Portman of Ohio, who cited his son's coming-out in announcing his changed position earlier this month.
Significantly, the disclosures this week came from senators from Republican-leaning states, and three who face reelection in 2014, such as Hagan, who explained her position in a Facebook posting Wednesday.
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"Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue. After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn't tell people who they can love or who they can marry,” Hagan wrote.
Just last year, North Carolina voters voted in favor of an amendment banning same-sex marriage and other civil unions. Hagan had opposed it at the time, she noted, out of concern "about the negative consequences it could have on North Carolina families and our economy."
"No church or minister should ever have to conduct a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs. But I think as a civil institution, this issue's time has come and we need to move forward," she said.
McCaskill quoted Scripture in a post on her Tumblr account discussing her views, and said "supporting marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is simply the right thing to do for our country, a country founded on the principals of liberty and equality."
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"Like many Virginians and Americans, my views on gay marriage have evolved, and this is the inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone," Warner wrote Monday.
According to a tally maintained by the Human Rights Campaign, all but nine Democratic senators now support same-sex marriage.
"It does seem to be such a turning point week where the stars are aligning," said Michael Cole-Scwhartz, spokesman for the rights organization. "A lot of them frankly want to be on the right side of history, and are going through the evolutionary process that millions of other Americans have done."
Among the exceptions, though, include Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who also face difficult reelection races in deeply conservative states.
Gay marriage through the years
Human Rights Campaign has no similar tally for the House of Representatives, because many of the members in that chamber have not stated a position or responded to the group's outreach. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters after attending Wednesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court, noted how quickly the issue has changed in politics.
"I've been there for 25 years," she said. "It was a badge of honor for me. So now it's a badge of honor for a lot of people. But for a long time it was something that we knew was inevitable."
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