UPDATED with comments from an interview with Dent.
WASHINGTON – The growing wave of political support for same-sex marriage crossed another threshold in Pennsylvania Wednesday, when U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent became one of only a few Republicans in Congress to support the idea.
"The American public’s views on this issue have shifted. So have mine," Dent said in a statement released by his office. "Life is too short to have the force of government stand in the way of two adults whose pursuit of happiness includes marriage."
In an interview off the House floor, Dent told the Inquirer that a recent court ruling striking down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage, along with conversations with his wife and three children (aged between 14 and 19) helped shape his views. In particular, he cited the broad support for same-sex marriage among younger people, signaling a generational change in attitudes.
"I suspect that that view will prevail over time, so much so that I suspect that in a few decades people will look back on all this and say, ‘what was all the fuss about?’" Dent said.
Dent, of Allentown, is one of the GOP's most centrist voices and is now the only Congressional Republican from the Philadelphia region to support same-sex marriage.
He had previously voted for Pennsyvlania's Defense of Marriage law and supported similar measures in Congress. In the interview, he said those stands represented the views of the vast majority of his constituents at the time and "seemed like the right thing to do."
"But clearly, the views of many Americans have evolved rapidly on this issue over the years," Dent said. "At the end of the day, it struck me that it’s important that we protect individual liberty and there should be a more limited role of government in these types of matters."
He also said it was important to ensure that children of same-sex couples have the same legal protections as children of hetereosexual couples.
Dent’s statement comes eight days after Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down in U.S. District Court. It also comes eight days after Pennsylvania's primary day.
Gov. Corbett, a Republican, declined to challenge the district court ruling, even though he has said marriage should be between one man and one woman. Dent cited Judge John Jones' opinion, saying he had known the judge for 20 years.
"Judge Jones made a pretty compelling argument," Dent said when asked what brought about the release of his statement now. He also said he had been re-considering the issue in the lead up to last year's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
Numerous Democrats, including Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, have changed their stances on same-sex marriage since the 2012 elections – in which President Obama won re-election while backing the idea. Support has become the default position for Democrats. But few Republicans have joined them. The Washington Post, which first reported Dent's statement, listed five other Republicans in Congress who support same-sex marriage.
When the Inquirer surveyed Philadelphia-area members of Congres in April 2013, every Republican either said he believed marriage is between a man and a woman, or declined to comment.