Two More Democratic Senators For Same-Sex Marriage
The evolution of the Senate Democratic Caucus on the issue of same-sex marriage is near-complete. Yesterday, Florida Senator Bill Nelson announced that he had changed his position on the issue and, today, two more of his fellow Democrats joined him.
First up was Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, who issued this statement on his Facebook page this morning:
“In recent years, our country has been involved in an important discussion on the issue of marriage equality. While serving in the House of Representatives, I had the opportunity to act on a core belief of mine: we are a stronger country when we draw on the strengths of all Americans. I voted to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and was an original supporter of the bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. It is also for that reason that I oppose amending either Indiana’s or our nation’s constitution to enshrine in those documents an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ instead of a ‘we.’ With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.”
Shortly, thereafter, North Dakota’s Hedi Heitkamp also posted on her Facebook page:
“In speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships. I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief. The makeup of families is changing, but the importance of family is enduring.”
Donnelly and Heitkamp are significant in that they are both moderate Democrats elected in predominantly Republican states, and therefore might have been perceived to be taking a risk in stepping forward at the issue. At the same time, both were elected last year and won’t be facing re-election until 2018, at which point public opinion on same-sex marriage is likely to be even more favorable than it is today. So, there’s very little political risk for them at this point especially since the issue is currently in the hands of the Supreme Court.
That leaves four Senators on the Democratic side who have not come forward in support of same sex marriage, all of them from nominally red states. Two of them, Mary Landrieu from Louisiana and Mark Pryor from Arkansas are unlikely to put their necks out on their issue because they are both up for re-election in 2014. Another, Tim Johnson from South Dakota, is retiring at the end of the current Congress but most observers doubt he will make any statements on the issue in order not to complicate the campaign of whatever Democrat is nominated to run to replace him in 2014. That leaves Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who also isn’t up for re-election until 2018 but also hails from a state that remains fairly socially conservative. At the very least, I’d say it’s unlikely that Manchin says much of anything on the issue until he sees how the issue plays out in the coming years both in his home state and nationally.
Nonetheless, we are now at the point where there are 53 Senators — 51 Democrats and 2 Republicans — who have come out in favor of same-sex marriage. At the very least, that means that the Defense of Marriage Act would most assuredly die in the Senate at least, assuming supporters of repeal were able to get beyond a cloture vote.