Casey now backs same-sex marriage

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said today that he supports same-sex marriage, reversing his former stand and joining a long list of Democrats who have changed their minds on an issue that was pushed to the forefront of the news last week.

“After much deliberation and after reviewing the legal, public policy, and civil rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) should be repealed,” Casey said in a news release issued Monday afternoon.

Casey said he came to his new position in part due to letters he read from Pennsylvanians and their families.

“These 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?” Casey’s statement read. “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? If two people of the same sex want to raise children, why would our government prevent them from doing so, especially when so many children have only one parent, or none at all?”

Casey had previously said he supported civil unions for same-sex couples but opposed allowing marriage, making that position clear as recently as last year, when he ran for a second Senate term. Casey has long been more socially conservative than many of his Democratic colleagues, but on this issue he was part of a dwindling number of Senate Democrats who did not back marriage.

Last week, as the Supreme Court heard two landmark same-sex marriage cases, a slew of Democrats openly changed their positions. Gay-rights advocates in Pennsylvania peppered Casey’s office with phone calls as he remained quiet about his stand.

Casey’s opposition to same-sex marriage had made him an outlier within his own party, which has come to count appeals to gays, lesbians and transgender voters as a key piece to its political platform.

“If the president of the United States can come out fully in support for marriage equality and win re-election, there’s really very little fear that other people should have of coming out in support of really all LGBT issues,” said Ted Martin, executive director if Equality Pennsylvania, which was part of the phone effort. “That’s really been the value of the president and all these other people coming out.”

He called Casey’s announcement “the best non-April Fool’s day joke I’ve received in a long time.”

In a statement he said Casey's position "puts him squarely on the right side of history."

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage, could not be immediately reached for comment.

"It’s very troubling to see Sen. Casey respond to special interest pressure on an issue as important as this one," said Michael Geer, president of Pennsylvania Family Institute. "The special interests just recently announced their campaign to get him to flip and it didn’t take very long at all."

Geer said the senator's change of position "is so much different than the character and fortitude of his father, Gov. Casey, who famously and courageously bucked his party's stand" for increased access to abortion.

"Bob Casey the senior was not one to respond to pressure like his son seems to be," Geer said in a telephone interview.

Casey won his second six-year Senate term in November. Since then he has also reversed his long-held position on new gun laws, coming out in favor of bans on assault weapons, high capacity magazines and for tougher background checks in response to the Newtown school shooting.