Since Joe Biden blurted out his support for same-sex marriage nearly a year ago, 23 U.S. Senators have formally endorsed it in statements or interviews.
These "I now support same-sex marriage" statements have a certain mechanical poetry. The speaker is admitting that at some previous point, he or she did not. I think the penal implications of flip-flopping have been sufficiently lamented, but let's at least acknowledge the point: These are politicians going out of their way to emphasize that they have changed their minds.
Some go further than others. Claire McCaskill wrote a four-paragraph blog post that meditated on the difficulties of the decision and called on Corinthians for an assist. When South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson issued his reversal on Monday, he did so in 37 words that begin: "After lengthy consideration, my views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation."
It's easy to find common themes running through these messages. McCaskill, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Tom Carper, D-Del., all cite the influence of conversations with their families and friends. Hagan and a few others cite their religion.
I found six themes in reading through all the statements. They are as follows, with examples:
Love is all you need. See Tom Udall, D-N.M.:
"Two people, who are committed to one another, who love one another, should not be denied the fundamental right of marriage, or the legal rights that marriage includes."
Marriage is a civil right. See Biden:
"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties."
I've evolved. See Mark Warner, D-Va.:
"Like many Virginians and Americans, my views on gay marriage have evolved, and this is the inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone."
My faith supports it. See Hagan:
"But after much thought and prayer on my part, this is where I am today."
It's right for Democracy. Udall again:
"Our Constitution enshrines the principle of equality – equal rights for all."
Some of my best friends… Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.:
"In talking with my children and grandchildren, it has become clear to me they take marriage equality as a given."
What follows is a list of every statement made since Biden's, including President Barack Obama's and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's, coded by which of the six major themes I found. This list does not include the 34 current senators who had already confirmed their support by the time Biden did, since they typically did so with less fanfare.
The "I've evolved" category is interesting not only because of the flip-flop implications. Many people are changing their minds on this subject, as pollsters discover again and again. It is not only the handful of Democratic senators who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act who seem to feel the need to emphasize that this is a phase shift. The implication, I think, is that—unlike war, health care, abortion, deficit reduction, tax hikes, a chained-CPI model of social security, Gitmo, immigration reform, assault weapon bans and climate change—unlike virtually everything else, gay marriage is one topic on which it's politically acceptable to change your mind.