Casey backs marriage equality, DOMA repeal


U. S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has faced mounting pressure in recent days on his position on marriage equality, announced today that he now supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act — and full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“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and civil-rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed,” Casey said in a statement exclusively first released to PGN Monday afternoon.

Casey previously backed civil unions for same-sex couples and has said he opposes constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. He has supported pro-LGBT measures such as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Casey said this week that he began to reassess his position on marriage equality in 2011 when the Respect for Marriage Act, which would lift DOMA, was introduced for the first time in the Senate.

“I began to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage much more intensely than I had before,” he said.

Part of that process included considering feedback from LGBT Pennsylvanians and their families, Casey said.

“These stories had a substantial impact on my position on this issue,” the senator said. “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? 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 referenced one lesbian couple from Southeastern Pennsylvania who contacted him, detailing the financial and societal setbacks they’ve faced from being denied the right to marry.

“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.

Efforts to press the senator on his position ramped up last week as the U.S. Supreme Court held hearings on a challenge to DOMA and to California’s ban on same-sex marriage. A number of other senators announced they had evolved on marriage equality in the days prior to Casey’s statement and, the following day, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced he too supports marriage equality, as did Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

There are now just seven Democratic senators who have not yet stated their support for same-sex marriage.

Last week, Equality Pennsylvania, Keystone Progress and launched a major push to get Casey on board, which backers said generated more than 10,000 phone calls, emails and letters from Pennsylvanians urging the senator to support marriage equality.

Equality PA executive director Ted Martin said the community mobilization was effective.

“Over the past year-and-a-half now, we’ve been having this conversation with the senator, and I really think the most impactful part of that conversation was hearing from the community,” Martin said. “We were taking couples into his offices all over the state in the last year. And in the past week, I think the 10,000 phone calls really let him know people care about this issue.”

Casey, a Catholic, acknowledged that his new position may not be universally applauded — but said the issue of equality should be one that people of all parties and backgrounds can support.

“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.”

Out state Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) issued an open letter to the senator last week, urging him to support marriage equality.

Sims told PGN this week that Casey is a good example for other lawmakers who are on the fence about marriage equality.

“[Casey’s] seen as a thoughtful person who really doesn’t rush into things, and I think this can help others who might be holding out feel like now is the time,” Sims said. “And the senator has a lot in common with others who say they’re opposed to LGBT civil rights. What he’s done is show other people who might, because of their faith, for example, be struggling with supporting marriage equality, that, yes, this is a struggle but there’s a moral conclusion to that struggle.”

Martin said Casey told him this week that he is eager to work with his colleagues on this issue.

Beyond the tangible effect that burgeoning legislative opposition to DOMA can have on the growth of the marriage-equality movement, Martin said Casey’s support can be integral in furthering other LGBT-rights issues.

“What this does is prompt a larger discussion about LGBT issues in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Pennsylvania treats its LGBT citizens pretty badly. And to deal with that, we need legislators to move on certain issues, and so far they’ve been pretty reluctant. But having a U.S. senator come out, the president come out, on marriage equality, should show people that they don’t need to be reluctant to support LGBT issues for fear of retribution from voters.”

Sims agreed.

“We’re talking about marriage equality in a state that doesn’t have any statewide LGBT civil rights,” he said. “While the marriage discussion is happening across Pennsylvania, it’s not really happening in the capital. But what is happening is important discussions about antibullying, hate crimes and nondiscrimination. And this helps put Sen. Casey’s imprimatur on the momentum that that there now is for quality LGBT legislation in Pennsylvania.”