Senators back gay marriage as Supreme Court hears cases

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:45pm EDT

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) answers phone calls from constituents in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington July 29, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) answers phone calls from constituents in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington July 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Carolina's Kay Hagan on Wednesday became the sixth Democratic senator to endorse gay marriage this week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases on the issue.

"After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn't tell people who they can love or who they can marry," Hagan said in a statement on her Facebook page on Wednesday.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans believe that homosexuals should have the right to wed and more politicians are declaring themselves in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

Chief Justice John Roberts alluded to the evolving positions on the issue during oral arguments on Wednesday in one of the cases, citing political support for same-sex marriage as evidence that gays and lesbians were not a vulnerable group requiring special protections.

"As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case," Roberts said to Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer representing Edith Windsor, a lesbian widow seeking federal benefits in one of the cases.

The justices indicated interest in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court also heard arguments on Tuesday on California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

Support for same-sex marriage varies between states, and Hagan's decision could have bearing on her re-election race next year.

North Carolina, which backed Republican Mitt Romney - an opponent of gay marriage - in the November 2012 presidential election, and voters there also strongly backed a measure in May 2012 prohibiting both civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Five other Senate Democrats - Mark Begich of Alaska, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia - have also announced their support for gay marriage in the last few days.

Their backing left only about 10 of the 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus who have not endorsed same-sex marriage, reflecting a shift in public sentiment.

President Barack Obama announced that he approved of gay marriage in May 2012.

Republicans, who are generally more socially conservative than Democrats, remain largely opposed.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman became one of the most prominent Republican politicians to back gay marriage rights when he announced his support in mid-March, two years after his son told him he was gay.

Hagan compared her decision to Portman's in her statement on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Comments (4)
ejvalpey wrote:
During oral arguments on the merits of Prop 8, Justice Scalia pressed Ted Olson on the question, “…when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted?”. While Mr. Olson’s case does rely heavily on the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, I think the correct answer is a bit more nuanced and interesting (even if Mr. Olson argued that the answer was irrelevant).

The 19th Amendment!

Prior to women’s suffrage, the institution of marriage was about a union of people from two unequal classes of persons. On one side you had a class of persons with full citizenship and voting rights, and on the other a class dependent on the first for all manner of recognition under the law. Once we ratified the 19th amendment, however, we “fundamentally redefined marriage” into a co-equal relationship of peers. A significant aspect of pre-1920 marriage was as an institution which protected women by attaching them to a man with full citizenship rights. (The father of the bride gives away daughter’s hand in marriage and all.) To exclude same-sex couples from that dynamic doesn’t seem as irrational. Once the 19th Amendment is adopted and marriage is re-defined (to be union of people with equal rights under the law) then the 14th Amendment’s equal protection applies to all couples.

Mar 27, 2013 11:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Naksuthin wrote:
This is more about public opinion and perception than about the law.
As is usually the case laws are made after public perception has changed and not the other way around.
For over 100 years women were not allowed to vote. It wasn’t until women started insisting on that right that the law was changed to accommodate changed public opinion.
The Supreme Court is just rubber stamping what we all know to be fact: That Gay Marriage is acceptable to most Americans and will continue to be even more so as time goes on.
The Supreme court is just following dutifully behind our changing culture

Mar 27, 2013 12:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Naksuthin wrote:
This is more about public opinion and perception than about the law.
As is usually the case laws are made after public perception has changed and not the other way around.
For over 100 years women were not allowed to vote. It wasn’t until women started insisting on that right that the law was changed to accommodate changed public opinion.
The Supreme Court is just rubber stamping what we all know to be fact: That Gay Marriage is acceptable to most Americans and will continue to be even more so as time goes on.
The Supreme court is just following dutifully behind our changing culture

Mar 27, 2013 12:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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