Nearly a week after Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional, a Pennsylvania Republican congressman has come out as a supporter of marriage equality. Rep. Charlie Dent said in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday that "life is too short ... to stand in the way of" same-sex marriage.
There is a tiny club of congressional Republicans who've endorsed marriage equality, and yesterday, it picked up a new member.
The GOP congressman issued a statement to the press -- which, oddly, does not appear on his website -- elaborating on his perspective. "As a Republican, I value equality, personal freedom and a more limited role for government in our lives," Dent said. "I believe this philosophy should apply to the issue of marriage as well."
The Pennsylvania lawmaker also cited the recent federal court ruling that struck down his state's ban on same-sex marriages. "Fundamentally, this is about equality," Dent's statement read. "As Federal District Judge John Jones -- a man for whom I have great respect and have known for 20 years -- wrote, 'In the sixty years since Brown was decided, 'separate' has thankfully faded into history, and only 'equal' remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage.'"
Dent's announcement does not come as a big surprise. On the contrary, he's been hinting at this quite a bit recently -- after the Pennsylvania court ruling, the congressman said in 20 years, people will wonder "what all the fuss was about."
In the larger context, Dent joins a select few in his party. According to Colby Itkowitz's latest count, there are now six congressional Republicans who've publicly endorsed equal marriage rights: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), and now Dent.
For proponents of civil rights, the next question is whether to consider this impressive or disheartening.
There are currently 278 Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- 233 in the House and 45 in the Senate. As of today, six of them believe that if two consenting adults fall in love and want to get married, they should be allowed to do so.
That's just 2.1% of all congressional Republicans, up from 1.8% the day before.
For supporters of marriage equality, it's not necessarily obvious whether to consider the glass 98% empty or 2% full. On the one hand, up until a few years ago, the total number of GOP same-sex-marriage proponents in Washington was zero -- it's a socially conservative party, reliant on an evangelical base to help win elections.
On the other hand, incremental progress is still progress. Plus, maybe the actual number is slightly higher if we count Republican lawmakers who secretly support marriage equality, but who are afraid to say so.
However one comes down on the issue, it's clear the Republican Party has much further to go before it's in line with the American mainstream on the issue. Dent's announcement is a step in the right direction, but it's a small step.