The Supreme Court’s focus this week on gay marriage has put Democratic senators seeking re-election in 2014 under a microscope, with no shortage of media outlets asking their offices about evolving views on the issue.
With the court taking up the constitutionality of a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted the federal definition of marriage to opposite sex couples, several Democratic senators have determined in recent days that now is the time to make public revised or clarified stands on the marriage issue. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who is up for re-election in 2014, became the latest Democrat to announce her support for gay marriage Wednesday morning in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer.
“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. It’s time to move forward with this issue,” Hagan said.
With Hagan’s reversal, there are now only nine Democratic senators who have not expressed support for gay marriage rights, per the Huffington Post. The group includes only two senators seeking re-election next year: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.
Asked in the interview how the shift in position might affect her 2014 campaign, Hagan said, “I’m not interested in playing political pundit,” before adding that she has “never made a decision based on future elections. I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in casting aspersions on those who view this differently.”
The list of senators coming out in favor of gay marriage this week includes Mark Warner of Virginia, who is also up for re-election in 2014. Many believed that Warner’s 2008 classmate Sen. Mark Begich also changed course on gay marriage rights, but as a Time blog post pointed out, the Alaska Democrat was already identified as supporting marriage equality on the Human Rights Campaign’s legislative scorecard.
Landrieu previously opposed the 2006 effort to amend the Constitution to define marriage, but expressed support for Louisiana’s definition of marriage being only between one man and one woman. “So long as there is no federal court interference with Louisiana’s Constitution, we should leave marriage to the states, as our founders intended,” she said in a statement at the time.
However, when Buzzfeed approached Landrieu about the subject recently, it was clear from her response that she’s wrestling with the issue. “It’s very tough because I think most people believe that people should love who they love,” she said after referencing the state-level prohibition.
Landrieu’s position could become more complicated if the Supreme Court makes a sweeping ruling in response to the case heard Tuesday contesting California’s prohibition on gay marriage under Proposition 8 or if it rules that marriages in any state be deemed valid in any other state. Either decision might be construed as, in the words of her 2006 statement, “federal court interference with Louisiana’s Constitution.”
Similarly, Pryor reportedly has not shifted on gay marriage. When the Constitutional amendment came up for a vote in 2006, he opposed it but he said he also supported Arkansas law barring such unions. Pryor, Landrieu and Hagan are considered three of the most vulnerable senators facing voters next year.
Still, the momentum in popular opinion nationwide is clearly behind the effort to expand marriage rights. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released March 18 found 58 percent of those surveyed in support of allowing same-sex marriages. Perhaps more interesting, both as a legal matter and a philosophical one for senators, the poll found 64 percent think the question “should be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution.”
Many other Democratic senators outlined views on gay marriage around the time that President Barack Obama announced his change in position, or based on other events at the state level. That includes veteran Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who highlighted his position when the Montana Democratic Party decided to include a marriage equality plank in the party platform in 2012.
“I don’t believe the federal government should be getting involved in people’s private lives. Adults should be free to choose who they spend their lives with a committed relationship,” Baucus said in a statement reported by the Helena Independent Record.