Majority of US Senate On Board With Marriage Equality

Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican. | US SENATE

Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican. | US SENATE

With announcements during the first week of April from Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Tom Carper of Delaware, and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois that they now support the right of same-sex couples to marry, 54 members of the US Senate are on record in favor of marriage equality.

The statements from Carper and Kirk are particularly significant since their home states are both considering marriage equality legislation. The Illinois State Senate approved the legislation in February and advocates are working to nail down the final votes for passage in the House. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has promised to sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

Delaware’s Democratic governor, Jack Markell, is also a gay marriage supporter, and the state’s entire congressional delegation –– including Senator Chris Coons and Representative John Carney, who like Carper are Democrats –- have endorsed equality for same-sex couples.

Kirk, one of the two Senate Republicans now on record in support of gay marriage, suffered a severe stroke last year and, in a post to his blog, suggested the experience changed his thinking on the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

“When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others,” he wrote. “Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.”

Several weeks ago, Republican Rob Portman of Ohio came on board, explaining that his gay son, Will, a Yale undergraduate, brought him around on the issue. (Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona lacks Portman’s family values, telling a local television that despite having a gay son, “I don’t support the gay marriage.”)

In an April 4 statement to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Democrat Nelson said, “It is generally accepted in American law and US. society today… 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' I believe that. The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all. Thus, to discriminate against one class and not another is wrong for me. If we are endowed by our creator with rights, then why shouldn't those be attainable by gays and lesbians?”

Among the Senate’s 55 Democrats, all but three have come on board. The hold-outs are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.