Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly endorse gay marriage

Two Democratic senators in conservative states endorsed gay marriage Friday, joining the vast majority of their Democratic colleagues. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) are the latest to express a change of heart on this issue.

Both Donnelly and Heitkamp were elected last fall, meaning they don't have to face voters for another six years. While both represent states that are reliably Republican in presidential races, the rapid pace at which public opinion on gay marriage is changing makes it a little easier to step out on the issue now.

There are now 53 sitting senators who support same-sex unions. 

“In speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships," Heitkamp said in a statement. "I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief.”

As recently as this week, Heitkamp’s office said she favored states defining marriage but wouldn’t say what her personal position was.

At almost the same time, Donnelly came out with a statement of his own. "With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes," he said. "In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.”

The twin announcements mean there are now only four Democrats left in the Senate who have not endorsed gay marriage. All four -- Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- are in red territory. Of those, Landrieu and Pryor are up for reelection next year.

This week alone, six senators have endorsed gay marriage -- while another, Virginia's Tim Kaine, made his support more clear. In the past few weeks, as the Supreme Court heard arguments on two cases that could radically alter marriage laws in the country, Democrats seem to be rushing to get on the side of their base on this issue, with about two dozen senators announcing changes of heart. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, also endorsed gay marriage this week, joining the only other GOP senator to do so -- Ohio's Rob Portman.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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Aaron Blake · April 5, 2013