WASHINGTON – Two freshman Democratic senators from conservative states, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have joined the growing chorus of lawmakers who say they support gay marriage.
In separate statements released minutes apart Friday, the senators said their views on the issue had evolved. They joined a rapidly growing list of senators who support gay marriage, and the list now includes 49 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and two Republicans.
I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships, Heitkamp said. I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief.
Donnelly explained his position on his Facebook page Friday morning.
While serving in the House of Representatives, I had the opportunity to act on a core belief of mine: we are a stronger country when we draw on the strengths of all Americans, Donnelly wrote. I voted to repeal dont ask, dont tell and was an original supporter of the bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of their sexual orientation.
Donnelly said thats why he opposes changing the state or U.S. Constitution to enshrine in those documents an us and a them, instead of a we. I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.
By 4 p.m., Donnellys Facebook statement had generated nearly 2,000 likes and more than 700 comments, ranging from Shame on you to Thank you for doing the right thing.
Roger McNett, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (known as PFLAG of Fort Wayne), said he knows Donnelly personally and has talked to him about the issue.
Before the election he indicated he was very positive in supporting gay and lesbian people but hadnt gone that far yet, McNett said.
McNett said that one more Democratic senator backing the idea may not, in itself, be a big deal, but it can make a difference.
People know that Donnelly is a pretty bright man, McNett said. He tries to evaluate things carefully, and if he comes out this way, I would hope it would cause other people to carefully re-evaluate their own positions and say maybe this marriage idea isnt as bad or as negative as I thought it was.
On Thursday, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson became the 51st senator to announce support for gay marriage.
Both Donnelly and Heitkamp were elected in 2012, winning close races in states that were handily carried by GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Dan Stockman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.