Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday became the 50th sitting U.S. senator — and the second Republican in the chamber after Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — to back same-sex marriage.
The announcement came on the heels of one from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who became the 48th Democrat in the Senate to back gay nuptials. Lawmakers in Delaware and Illinois are mulling legislation that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples this year, and both announcements could reignite momentum for marriage equality in those states.
“When I climbed the Capitol steps in January,” Kirk wrote on his blog, “I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.”
“Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage,” the statement continues. “Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.”
Kirk was absent from the Senate for nearly one year after suffering a stroke in January 2012, which he alluded to in Tuesday’s marriage pronouncement.
Kirk has been a long-time supporter of some LGBT legislation, backing employment protection legislation since he arrived in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001.
He initially opposed U.S. House efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his 2010 Senate run. However, after the election, Kirk — who replaced pro-gay appointee Roland Burris — became a yes vote in that chamber, helping push the repeal to passage.
“With the Republican logjam on marriage equality now officially broken, we encourage Senator Kirk’s fellow Republicans in the Senate and his colleagues in the House to join him, Senator Portman, Congressman Hanna, and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen on the right side of history,” Log Cabin Republicans executive director, Gregory T. Angelo, said in a statement.
“With Senator Kirk’s support, the U.S. Senate is now ready to move to the right side of history in support of same-sex couples’ freedom to marry,” wrote Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson in response to the announcement. “Just as we have seen a majority of Americans embrace the freedom to marry, so the Senate is now on the verge of a majority for marriage.”