When the history books are written, Sen. Bob Casey's name will be listed among the Democrats who almost switched en masse to become supporters of gay marriage in 2013.
If Casey had delayed any longer, he may have risked being remembered as the odd man out.
But the Pennsylvania Democrat's announcement Monday that he supports same-sex marriage adds him to the ranks of former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and congressional Democrats who in the last several weeks have made public their support for gay marriage.
In an interview, Casey said he had decided over time that the Defense of Marriage Act -- the federal law that defines marriage as one man and one woman -- should be repealed, and determined that such a belief could not be separate from the overall question of gay marriage.
"I ultimately decided that to make a decision about DOMA was making a decision about marriage equality itself," Casey said. Casey gave interviews to The Morning Call and the Philadelphia Gay News before making his support public.
Casey said he will sign on as a co-sponsor to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act when the Senate reintroduces such legislation.
"It wasn't until recently that I thought some point this year it will be reintroduced, so that was a question I was asking myself: Can you separate the vote on that [from] the ultimate question on marriage equality?" Casey said. "There's no way to do that."
Casey's public switch comes less than a week after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two landmark gay marriage cases.
In recent days half a dozen of Casey's Democratic colleagues reversed their position and became same-sex marriage supporters, but Casey did not. And in the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court cases, the senator stayed quiet on the issue.
Casey's reversal now leaves just eight of 53 Senate Democrats who say they do not support gay marriage.
In recent days Pennsylvania's gay community and its supporters flooded Casey's office with letters and phone calls detailing their personal stories. He said those accounts, coupled with the shifting public opinion in support of gay marriage and what he described as the "basic civil rights and fairness" of it, persuaded him to write a statement in support of gay marriage over the Easter holiday break from Washington.
In the statement Casey said he personally wrote over several days, the senator asks, "If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? 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?"
Away from the Beltway, Casey said he considered arguments made by constituents on both sides. During the process there was a never a time, he said, that he thought his progression was moving in the wrong direction.
As the issue heated up around the Supreme Court cases, some constituent letters were wrought with anxiety and frustration, Casey said. He said he understands how difficult it would be to wait years for recognition from your elected official.
State Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat and the first openly gay elected official in Harrisburg, wrote Casey a letter last week.
"We have believed since you were sworn in that when the time was right, when it really mattered, you would be there for equality. The time is right and we need you to be here," Sims wrote on Thursday. "But your voice is silent. And I am angry."
Sims immediately put out a statement Monday commending Casey's reversal on gay marriage.
Gay rights advocacy groups cheered Casey's decision. Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, a Harrisburg-based advocacy group that helped spearhead the public pressure on Casey, called it "an amazing piece of news." As a devout Catholic from Northeast Pennsylvania, a socially conservative region of the state, Casey's support is especially significant, Shanker said.
"It's not lost on anyone that our country is really coming along ... we are beyond appreciative of his evolution on this issue," Shanker said.
Only two years ago Shanker introduced Casey to his gay mother and her wife, who were married in New York, and told Casey he wished for the same opportunity to marry his partner in Pennsylvania. At the time, Casey reaffirmed his support for civil unions.
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a group against gay marriage, said he was "troubled" by how "quickly" Casey bowed to pressure from special interests.
"I had to confirm it wasn't an April Fool's thing," he said. "It seemed like Sen. Casey had understood the special bond that is marriage: Bring male and female together for the benefit of the children that result from that bond."
Casey, who is more socially conservative than most of his party, had been a supporter of other gay rights issues such as anti-bullying and workplace nondiscrimination. He voted to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law that allowed gay soldiers to serve if they didn't disclose their sexuality.
Casey's support for gay marriage is unlikely to hurt him politically and will likely help him, said Lara Brown, a Villanova University political science professor. When Casey is up for re-election in 2018, it won't be a controversial issue but liberal activists will remember he was on their side.
"From a political standpoint it was a safe decision for him to make. From a moral standpoint, despite having a high percentage of Catholics, Pennsylvanians prefer a more tolerant social view," Brown said. "He's coming at this from -- he doesn't want to be the odd man out in the Democratic Party."
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