GOP Rep. Charlie Dent congratulates same-sex couples in Pennsylvania

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), considered on Capitol Hill to be among the most moderate Republicans, particularly on social issues, is on the precipice of joining the handful of other GOP lawmakers who support same-sex marriage. He just needs a little more time.

To casual Congress observers, it may be a surprise that Dent doesn't already support it. He backed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and co-sponsored bills to give same-sex couples equal immigration rights and to protect gay employees from workplace discrimination. He's endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans, an advocacy group for gay rights.

When a federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday ruled that the state's ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional -- a ban Dent voted for as a state representative in 1996 -- Dent gave a statement to the Patriot-News in Harrisburg congratulating gay couples. It was a statement that easily could be interpreted as Dent offering his blessing.

Dent's name was immediately added to a Wikipedia page listing supporters of same-sex marriage. And the Freedom to Marry blasted this message on its Facebook page:

(Courtesty: Freedom to Marry)
(Courtesy: Freedom to Marry)

But Dent said Thursday he's not quite there yet, although he strongly suggested that he will be making his support official soon.

"I will have more to say about marriage equality in the near future.... Now that the judge ruled, it caused me to reconsider my views on the matter," he said. "In 1996, when I voted for the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage of Act, it felt appropriate at the time ... but clearly times have changed, attitudes and perspectives have evolved, and I understand that."

Dent said he wasn't prepared with a thoughtful statement this week and needed a little more time to craft it.

Although the pendulum of public support for same sex marriage has swung dramatically in the last several years, only a few GOP members of Congress are openly in favor of it. Dent will join a small club that includes Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.).

But the politics are turning at whiplash speed. As colleague Wesley Lowery wrote this weekend, there are three openly gay GOP candidates running for Congress this year.

“The fact that the three of us can run for Congress as serious candidates says an awful lot about where we are today as a party,” said Dan Innis, campaigning in New Hampshire.

Dent, who is running unopposed this midterm election, seemed to agree.

"In 20 years, we'll be asking what all the fuss was about," he said.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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