Donnelly, Heitkamp now support gay marriage

A gay marriage rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC last week.

Indiana Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is joining the growing chorus of US lawmakers who now support gay marriage. Donnelly says he reconsidered his opinion after recent Supreme Court arguments and public discussion on the issue.

Sen. Donnelly made the announcement on his Facebook page, saying he had reached the conclusion that the right thing to do is to support gay marriage and equality for all. Donnelly says he reconsidered his opinion after recent Supreme Court arguments and public discussion on the issue.

That didn't take long to reach the street.

"I think everyone who pays taxes should be treated equally before the law and I am glad to see more republicans coming around to that point of view," said Don Schlagel, voter.

"I think it's a great decision. I think everyone should have the right to marry. I think it's a civil matter and I think everyone should have equal rights," said Aaron Brown.

Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is another freshman senator who endorsed gay marriage Friday. Heitkamp says she now believes the federal government shouldn't discriminate against "people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other."

Zach Adamson is the first openly gay politician to be elected in Indiana. He currently serves as a member of the Indianapolis City County Council.

"Anytime any one of us comes to the realization that the Constitution does afford equal protection under the law to all its citizens is important to recognize," said Adamson.

WTHR political analyst Peter Rusthoven says it is not unusual to have Democrats say one thing and then act another way when they get to Washington, but Donnelly "has always been quite conservative on social issues. I know he is a serious Roman Catholic and very serious about pro-life issues so again, without questioning his sincerity, people will be a little surprised by this. Probably a little different than what people expected when they voted for him."

Matt Tully, a political columnist from the Indianapolis Star, says it was just a matter of time.

"It's just not the powerful issue that it once was. You look at the tide and the way it was going especially on the Democratic side, it was a decision that was going to come today, next week or next month. It was going to happen," said Tully.

That means only four Democratic senators have not endorsed gay marriage. On the Republican side only two have endorsed it - Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Complete statement from Sen. Donnelly:

"In recent years, our country has been involved in an important discussion on the issue of marriage equality. 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. I voted to repeal 'don't ask, don't 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. It is also for that reason that I oppose amending either Indiana's or our nation's constitution to enshrine in those documents an 'us' and a 'them,' instead of a 'we.' With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all."

"Stonewall Democrats everywhere are proud that Senator Donnelly embraces marriage equality. He's on the right side of history," said Aaron Schaler, President of Indiana Stonewall Democrats. "We commend Senator Donnelly for standing up for what's right and will vigorously support him as he continues fighting for everyday Hoosiers in Washington, DC."

Case history

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.

Edie Windsor of New York, 83, challenged the law when the federal government refused to recognize her marriage to another woman and required her to pay a huge inheritance tax bill - something a legally recognized spouse would not have had to face.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the current law creates what she called "skim-milk marriages."

"For the federal government then to come in to say, no joint return, no
marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick but you can't get leave. One might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?" she said last week as lawyers presented arguments.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely pivotal vote, said the states traditionally define what it means to be married:

"I think it is a DOMA problem. The question is whether or not the federal government, under our federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage."

If the court bases its ruling on who gets to define marriage, then it won't be a sweeping decision about gay rights, but striking down DOMA would still be a big victory for same-sex couples.