Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk threw his support behind same-sex marriage on Tuesday, becoming the second sitting Republican senator to do so.
“When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others,” said Kirk on his website Tuesday. “Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage.
Kirk’s announcement arrived less than three weeks after Ohio Sen. Rob Portman stepped out as the first Republican senator to back marriage equality, having come to terms with his son’s sexuality. “Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective,” wrote Portman in an op-ed published in the Columbus Dispatch in March. “That of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”
Like Portman, Kirk suggested that he was also swayed by personal experience to come out in favor of same-sex marriage. The 53-year-old senator recently returned to the Senate after suffering a severe stroke, and hinted that it was his near-death experience that helped shape his opinion. “Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most,” said Kirk in his statement. “Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back--government has no place in the middle.”
Kirk’s pronouncement makes him the fourth elected Republican in Congress to publicly support gay marriage. Along with Sen. Portman, House Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., have come out in favor of marriage equality, signing a brief to the Supreme Court urging the legalization of such unions. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said last week that her views were “evolving” on same-sex marriage, but she stopped short of endorsing it.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week challenging the constitutionality of both California's ban on same-sex marriage, and a 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes. Their decision is expected to come down in June.
In the days since, one Democratic senator after another has publicly professed their support of gay marriage. Only seven red state Democrat senators continue to hold out. Earlier in the day, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., took to Facebook to offer his support of marriage equality. “As our society has changed and evolved, so too has the public’s opinion on gay marriage – and so has mine,” he wrote. "All Americans should be free to marry the people they love and intend to share their lives with, regardless of their sexual orientation.”