More than a few high-profile Democrats have been walking the same line on gay marriage that President Obama walked until today: dutifully supporting the repeal of discriminatory measures like the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy, and in many cases even supporting civil unions—but stopping short of an outright endorsement of marriage equality.
But these Democrats are marching without a leader, now that the president has announced a change of heart. As Richard Kim points out, since Obama stressed that he thinks states should decide the gay marriage issue, this is a step shy of endorsing full marriage equality—but it still suddenly places Obama to the left of many high-profile Democrats, many of whom are up for re-election this fall.
Twenty-two Democratic Senators support gay rights and are explicitly pushing for that plank to be added to the Democratic Party platform this summer, something that seems all the more likely now. But here’s a quick look at some others who are probably huddled with advisers as we speak, trying to figure out if they, too, should “evolve.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada
This is a big one. Re-elected in 2010 to what many believe could be his last term in the Senate, Reid has been a good advocate for LGBT Americans on many issues—under his leadership the Senate repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) and rejected Republican attempts to strip LGBT protections from the Violence Against Women Act. He’s also repeatedly voted against constitutional amendments that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
But Reid is a member of the Mormon church, and has stated that he agrees, personally, with the church position that marriage is between and man and a woman only. With Obama, Biden and Nancy Pelosi all in favor of gay marriage, Reid stands as the highest-ranking Democratic official not to support it.
UPDATE: Reid put out a statement reiterating his personal belief that marriage is between a man in a woman, but also endorsing Americans’ ability to enter into same-sex marriage, and adding that individual states should decide. The statement in full: "My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married. The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd. In talking with my children and grandchildren, it has become clear to me they take marriage equality as a given. I have no doubt that their view will carry the future. I handled a fair amount of domestic relations work when I was a practicing lawyer, and it was all governed by state law. I believe that is the proper place for this issue to be decided as well.”