Last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court pondered the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, Democrats were quickly rushing to the microphones proclaiming their support for same-sex marriage.
Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all said they backed gay marriage, following the leads of President Obama, who came out for marriage equality last spring after a long period of “evolution,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently added her name to the list of gay marriage supporters in a carefully crafted video message.
However, there have been a handful of noteworthy holdouts in the stampede to champion marriage for same-sex couples. Nine Senate Democrats remained silent on the issue, among them Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
A former governor representing what has become one of the reddest states in the union, Manchin stands to the right of most in his party on environmental and social issues, and that seems to be holding where gay marriage is concerned. “I believe that a marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” Manchin told Time magazine. “My beliefs are guided by my faith and I support the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Manchin is not swimming against his state’s tide, with just 19 percent of adults supporting same-sex marriage there as of 2011. However, Casey presented a somewhat more curious case. Catholic, pro-life and tending more toward the cautious than the bold, until Monday Casey appeared to be biding his time.
But the senator apparently didn’t need a need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan. Late Monday afternoon, he came out in support of marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA. In a statement on his website, Casey said he was swayed by constituent letters and that their stories “had a substantial impact on my position on this issue. If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages?”
While Democrats have traditionally been more friendly to the gay community than the GOP, they have not been full-throated supporters of same-sex marriage. During his flash-in-the-pan 2004 presidential bid, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was at pains to say that a civil unions law he had signed back home was “not gay marriage.” And Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act as president in 1996, reportedly advised the eventual 2004 nominee, John Kerry, to support a nationwide gay marriage ban. Kerry didn’t take the bait and Clinton, now a gay marriage supporter, denies he ever made the suggestion. Still, it demonstrates that national Democrats, like many Americans, have changed their minds on this issue – or have shed their timidity – in a stunningly brief amount of time.
Former President Clinton is now, according to one strategist interviewed by The New York Times last week, “personally embarrassed and remorseful” about having signed the Defense of Marriage Act in the midst of his own re-election campaign and “it makes him uncomfortable that something he’s responsible for has caused so much pain to so many people he genuinely cares about.”
Casey is to be congratulated for his support of marriage equality. It’s time for Manchin to join him and the majority of his fellow countrymen. To borrow another phrase from Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Rapidly.