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Kay Hagan becomes latest senator to endorse gay marriage

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) became the latest senator to support gay marriage rights, endorsing the cause “after much thought and prayer” in a message posted on Facebook Wednesday morning.

Senate_Hagan_0d934_image_1024w (AP Photo/ Free Press, Zach Frailey)

Hagan’s announcement carries significant political weight, given that she is a top target for Republicans in 2014, and North Carolina, which leans culturally conservative, approved a state initiative last May that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. More than 60 percent of North Carolina voters supported the ballot initiative.

Hagan, who opposed Amendment One, as it was known, had not clearly stated her own position on gay marriage until Wednesday.  “After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry,” she said in her statement. “This wasn’t a decision I came to overnight, like my Republican colleague Rob Portman expressed recently on his own viewpoint.”

Portman (R-Ohio) announced in mid-March that he had reversed his own position and now supported gay marriage, citing his son’s decision two years earlier to come out to him. Hagan joins five other Senate Democrats – Mark Begich (Alaska), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (W. Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.) – who have announced their support for gay marriage in the last few days.

Of those, Begich and Hagan face potentially difficult re-election prospects. Here’s her full statement:

Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue. After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry.

This wasn’t a decision I came to overnight, like my Republican colleague Rob Portman expressed recently on his own viewpoint. Last year, I opposed Amendment One because I was concerned about the negative consequences it could have on North Carolina families and our economy. The fabric of North Carolina and what makes our state so special is our families and our common desire for a brighter future for our children. No matter what your family looks like, we all want the same thing for our families – happiness, health, prosperity, a bright future for our children and grandchildren.

Religious institutions should have religious freedom on this issue. No church or minister should ever have to conduct a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs. But I think as a civil institution, this issue’s time has come and we need to move forward. Jobs and the economy are the number one issue for me and for North Carolinians right now, and I’m not going to take my eye off that ball at a time when so many are still struggling.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.

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