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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kylopod says:

    On the one hand, these defections are all good news: it shows how rapidly the politicians are adapting to the shift in public opinion on this particular issue. (If only they exercised the same responsiveness on other issues like, say, taxing the rich. But never mind….) On the other hand, you can call me naive but I’m still a bit dazzled by the rank cynicism on display. Probably most of these senators–especially the Democrats, but also probably many of the Republicans–never had strong objections to SSM to begin with, but felt afraid to reveal their true opinions out of fear of the electoral consequences. (This was certainly true for those who had previously backed the Orwellian “civil unions.”) “I’m evolving on gay marriage” is quickly becoming the new “I’m resigning to spend time with my family”–an excuse that pols feel compelled to make despite the fact that no one in creation will believe them.

  2. 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.

    There’s very political risk because they are representing the consensus view.

    51 Democrats….2 Republicans.

    Tells you all you need to know.

  3. stonetools says:

    Wow, even red state Democrats are getting on the marriage equality train. Didn’t see that coming.

    Still, I’m not really going to get excited till at least 5 Senate Republicans “evolve”. Filibuster, b*tches.

    I hope Doug takes note of the fact that Democrats are taking a stand on the “new civil rights”, even when they might pay a political price, whereas “economic freedom” loving Republicans are still solidly in favor of violating the civil rights of their gay fellow citizens. Hopefully, Doug will vote for, and not just talk about, gay civil rights in upcoming elections.

  4. Sejanus says:

    @stonetools: “Hopefully, Doug will vote for, and not just talk about, gay civil rights in upcoming elections. ”

    HAHAHHAHAHHAHHA! Good one, you owe me a new keyboard for causing me to spill my coffee all over it.

  5. Moosebreath says:


    Exactly. Doug, like every other self-proclaimed Libertarian I have ever met, is willing to put every other type of personal liberty on hold in exchange for a reduction in marginal tax rates.

  6. stonetools says:


    Hey, maybe Doug can evolve too, from Homo libertarianis :-).

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Hey, maybe Doug can evolve too, from Homo libertarianis :-).

    Hey, it worked that way for Ayn Rand…well, when she needed Social Security and Medicare, that is…