Saying letters from gay, lesbian and transgender constituents have made a deep impact on him, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says he now believes the government should not deny gay people the right to marry.
He said he has chosen to support the repeal of the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
“These letters included deeply personal statements from people across our Commonwealth, and the questions they posed challenged me directly. 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, D-Scranton, asked in a statement released late Monday afternoon.
“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 has a record of supporting gay rights in the military and the workplace, but his support of the right of gay couples to participate in civil unions, but not marry, had been his stance until Monday.
“When the Respect for Marriage Act (the legislation that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act) was first introduced and debated in the Senate in 2011, I began to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage much more intensely than I had before. As a candidate for the Senate in 2006 and 2012 and as a senator, I have supported civil unions. I also supported strongly the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was a leading co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and had stated publicly that I opposed efforts to enact constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage,” Casey said in his statement.
“In the six years I have been in the Senate, there have not been any floor votes to repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) or to legalize same-sex marriage. Both questions have now been argued before the Supreme Court and are being debated across our country. 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and civil-rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed,” said Casey, who is Roman Catholic. He told the Morning Call of Allentown that he will sign on as a cosponsor to repeal DOMA, the 1996 law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, when the Senate reintroduces such legislation.
Casey’s public switch comes less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two landmark gay-marriage cases, including one involving DOMA. He’s also the latest senator, Democrat and Republican, to publicly change stances recently.
Casey becomes the seventh Senate Democrat in the past week to embrace same-sex marriage after previously opposing it. Eight Senate Democrats now continue to oppose marriage equality.
Casey’s statement included a letter from a woman in the greater Philadelphia region that he cited as one that was “particularly compelling.” The letter writer said she and her partner were together for 18 years, attend church every Sunday, have twins that her partner gave birth to and that she legally adopted.
“My kids have two proud and loving parents who are honest (and) work hard. I want my kids to know they are equal and our family is equal. … I just want my family to be treated equally and with respect by my state and federal government,” she said.
Casey said after reading this and dozens of other letters, his position has changed.
“As a senator and as a citizen, I can no longer in good conscience take a position that denies her and her family the full measure of equality and respect,” Casey said. “I understand that many Americans of good will have strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I believe elected public officials have an abiding obligation to refrain from demonizing and dividing people for partisan or political gain. Rather, Democrats and Republicans should come together and find areas of agreement to do what’s best for the country, including lesbian and gay Americans.”
Within hours of Casey’s statement, public figures and organizations issued their own statements reacting to Casey’s change of support.
In a prepared statement, Bishop of Scranton Joseph Bambera said Casey’s position is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Bambera called it unfortunate and disappointing that Casey “set aside the Catholic belief and teaching that the sacrament of marriage, rooted in the natural law, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong, loving union of a man and a woman open to the transmission of human life. The dual purpose of marriage: the unity and love of a man and a woman, and procreation has been rooted in human history long before any religion, nation or law was established.”
Bambera added that the church’s “defense of marriage should not be interpreted as an attack on individuals with same sex attractions. … Like all human beings, our lesbian or gay sisters and brothers are beloved children of God (and) must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided,” he said, quoting church teaching.
Bambera said the Church asserts that “the fundamental human rights of all persons must be defended, and encourages the elimination of any form of injustice, oppression, or violence against all people, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Officials representing advocacy groups for the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender community praised Casey’s announcement.
“We are extremely proud of Senator Casey today. He has voiced his support for LGBT family members, friends and neighbors to be granted the same rights that opposite-sex marriages currently enjoy,” said John Dawe, executive director of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, a regional LGBT community organization.
“Senator Casey has given the issue a lot of thought, and he’s realized how much it hurts committed same-sex couples to be denied the protection, dignity, and respect of marriage,” Dawe said.
Dawe, who is also a board member of Equality PA, the statewide LGBT political organization, noted that Equality PA, along with Keystone Progress and Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania flooded Casey’s office with more than 10,000 calls and e-mails asking him to come out in favor of marriage equality.
Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization based in Harrisburg, said members are thrilled that Casey “had a change of heart on the civil-rights issue of our day. We know this was a hard decision for him, but in the end he made the courageous decision to stand on the side of justice.”
Morrill called Casey’s announcement “a clear victory for the tens of thousands of people who called and wrote” to Casey over the past week.
Times Leader staff writer Steve Mocarsky contributed to this report.