by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Fifty out of the 100 U.S. Senators - 48 Democrats and two Republicans - now publicly support marriage equality. According to Josh Israel at Think Progress, 'with Vice President Joe Biden the tie-breaker, this marks the first time that a majority in the U.S. Senate has endorsed same-sex marriage.'
The rush to join the side of equal treatment for Gay and Lesbian couples began last month as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hear the Prop 8 and DOMA cases on March 26 and 27. Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill, Mark Warner, Mark Begich, Jay Rockefeller, Kay Hagan, and Jon Tester all took the occasion to declare their support for equality.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), a devout Catholic, joined the tide on April 1.
'If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way?' Casey said in a statement to Philadelphia Gay News.
'At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages? If two people of the same sex want to raise children, why would our government prevent them from doing so, especially when so many children have only one parent or none at all?'
The Pennsylvania senator previously backed civil unions for same-sex couples and has spoken out against constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. He has supported pro-LGBT measures such as the ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) and the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'
A LAWMAKER'S LETTER
Casey's announcement came four days after openly Gay Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims published an open letter to the senator, noting that he had worked to elect Casey in hopes he would support equal rights for his Gay and Lesbian constituents.
'We have believed since you were sworn in that when the time was right, when it really mattered, you would be there for equality,' Sims wrote.
'The time is right and we need you to be here. But your voice is silent. And I am angry.'
In his statement, Casey said he had begun to reconsider his position on same-sex marriage in 2011, when the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA was first introduced in the Senate.
'After much deliberation and after reviewing the legal, public policy and civil-rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed,' he said.
Casey was soon joined by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a Democrat.
'As our society has changed and evolved, so too has the public's opinion on Gay marriage - and so has mine,' Carper wrote on his Facebook page.
'I pray every day for God to grant me the wisdom to do what is right. Through my prayers and conversations with my family and countless friends and Delawareans, I've been reminded of the power of one of my core values: the Golden Rule. It calls on us to treat others as we want to be treated. That means, to me, that all Americans ultimately should be free to marry the people they love and intend to share their lives with, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that's why today, after a great deal of soul searching, I'm endorsing marriage equality.'
KIRK MAKES IT 50
The next day, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois became the 50th senator to come over to equality. Kirk, who suffered a near-fatal stroke in January 2012 and only returned to the Senate this year, said he had 'promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.'
'Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage,' Kirk wrote on his blog. '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.'
Kirk had previously voted to repeal DADT in 2010.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, now looks forward to a Senate vote to repeal DOMA.
'With Senator Kirk's support, the U.S. Senate is now ready to move to the right side of history in support of same-sex couples' freedom to marry,' Wolfson said in a statement.
'Just as we have seen a majority of Americans embrace the freedom to marry, so the Senate is now on the verge of a majority for marriage. As members of Congress are talking with their family, friends, colleagues, and constituents, they come to understand why marriage matters to Gay couples as to non-Gay, and speak up in support of fairness and freedom. Senator Kirk's heartfelt words about values of treating others as we'd all want to be treated in our precious time on this planet powerfully make the case for the freedom to marry - and the need for decision-makers to end marriage discrimination in the United States.'
On the Democratic side of the aisle, only Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) are still not openly supporting marriage equality.
Kirk and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who announced his support for equality on March 15, are currently the only Republican senators to endorse marriage rights for Gays and Lesbians.
While a majority of senators now support marriage equality, it remains unclear whether the Respect for Marriage Act will come to the Senate floor for debate, since anti-equality Republicans still have more than the 41 votes needed to filibuster the bill.
Update: As this edition of SGN went to press, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced his support of marriage equality.
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