Why Are All These Democrats Suddenly Pro-Gay Marriage?

Elahe Izadi
National Journal

Supporting same-sex marriage has entered “Oh, me too, me too!” territory; over the past week, prominent Democrats have embraced same-sex marriage. Most say that it’s a moral decision they made after their views have “evolved” but there are also political – and financial – benefits to such an evolution.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s coming out in favor of gay marriage shocked many, but Democrats coming out in favor of gay marriage since is news mostly because it's come in a cluster. Sen. Mark Warner admitted that his views “evolved” Monday; Sen. Claire McCaskill came out in favor of same-sex marriage over the weekend via Tumblr; Sen. Jon Tester did so yesterday on Facebook. It’s very likely that every Democratic presidential  in 2016 will be pro-gay marriage.

Supporting gay marriage will help their campaigns' coffers; red state Democrats could get financial help nationwide to help fight potential blow-back in their conservative states (McCaskill and Tester face re-election in 2016, while Warner and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, another Democrat who recently came out in support of same-sex marriage, are up again in 2014). Over the past decade, gay rights advocates and groups have proved themselves to be major players in fundraising cycles, whether it’s state races in New York or the flood of financial support for President Obama after he reversed his position.

“The gay and lesbian community is very savvy about this,” says Democratic strategist Jim Manley. “They know how to punish their nemeses but probably more importantly, they know how to reward their friends.”

Public opinion is on their side, too – 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage, according to a Washington Post/NBC News poll – so Republicans like Portman could plausibly benefit financially from coming out in favor of same-sex marriage. Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz stresses his organization is nonpartisan by design, and he points to the track record of support that Republicans have received from the gay community, such as in New York.

“Good things come to those who do the right thing. That applies equally, not just to Democrats,” Sainz says. “There was a time when being pro-gay marriage equality was just the moral thing to do. The measure of our success is it’s still the moral thing to do, but now it’s also the politically advantageous thing to do as well.”

But if lawmakers want to capitalize on that political advantage, they better act fast, especially for Democrats since there is broad consensus in their party on the issue. If the window for lawmakers to get on the side of gay rights hasn’t closed already, it’s rapidly getting there.

“If you do it later, you run the risk of being perceived as jumping onto the political bandwagon only for electoral gains,” Manley says. “It’s all about getting ahead of the issue and getting to where the American people are and dealing with it now, rather than closer to an election.”

Still, some Democrats are holding back. Ten Senate Democrats, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, have yet to endorse same-sex marriage. The two are also up in 2014.