Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), one of the few Democrats who had not previously made statements favoring marriage equality, came out on Wednesday to a local reporter with The News Observer, saying she believes “we should not tell people who they can love or who they can marry.”
“I know there are strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for their opinions,” she said. “But after much thought and prayer on my part this is where I am today.”
“I know all our families do not look alike. We all want the same thing for our families. We want happiness, we want health, prosperity, a bright future for our children and grandchildren,” Hagan added. “After conversations I’ve had with family members, with people I go to church with and with North Carolinians from all walks of life, I’ve come to my own personal conclusion that we should not tell people who they can love, or who they can marry.”
Hagan, who is facing reelection in 2014, is the latest in a torrent of current and former elected officials who’ve come out publicly in recent days announcing their support for marriage equality. The rising tide of calls for reform has the political world on edge amid Supreme Court arguments that could topple the Defense of Marriage Act and statewide bans on same sex marriage like California’s Prop. 8.
“It’s something like in World War II, we had the African-American veterans who fought, but when they got home they couldn’t vote,” former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) said during a Tuesday night interview on Current TV. “So now-a-days we have gays in the military — we had gays in the military before, but now we have openly gay people in the military — when they come out we tell them they are not entitled to this civil right.” He added that marriage equality is becoming “the new conservative position.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), another red state Democrat, announced on Tumblr Sunday that she’s no longer able to look her gay and lesbian friends in the eye without addressing the issue of marriage equality. “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,” she wrote.
The recent wave of coming out announcements was arguably kicked off by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who announced on March 15 that his views evolved after his son came out to him. “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister,” Portman wrote in an op-ed. “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”
Portman’s revelation was not taken well by attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC), who insulted the senator on camera and suggested his son’s homosexuality was due to his college education.
Their reactions, however, are symptomatic of the rapid movement within mainstream conservative circles to embrace equality as the Supreme Court is taking up cases that could bring America closer to full-scale legalization of same sex marriage, and that has infuriated the fundamentalist Christian faction of the Republican Party. Icons of the movement like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have even threatened to tear the Republican Party in half if they formally accept marriage equality.