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GOP congressman on gay marriage: ‘Life is too short’ to stand in its way

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A Pennsylvania Republican congressman is now officially a supporter of same-sex marriage.

After a federal judge ruled the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional last week, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) congratulated gay couples in Pennsylvania and signaled his position change was imminent. But Dent, who has been evolving on the issue for some time, said he needed a little more time to get his thoughts together before making an official statement.

About a week later, he was ready.

"Life is too short to have the force of government stand in the way of two adults whose pursuit of happiness includes marriage," Dent said in a statement provided first to The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Quoting from the Pennsylvania ruling, "in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage," Dent said that in "conversations with my family, I have come to realize that they already see the world through that lens."

Dent, a centrist lawmaker who gained national attention as one of the first Republicans to stand up to House leadership over the 2013 federal government shutdown, is an advocate for other gay rights, including workplace nondiscrimination and equal immigration benefits. He is running unopposed in a district, which includes Allentown, that was redrawn after the 2010 census to be a little more Republican, but is still fairly moderate.

"As a Republican, I value equality, personal freedom and a more limited role for government in our lives," Dent said in his statement. "I believe this philosophy should apply to the issue of marriage as well."

In an interview last week, Dent predicted that in 20 years people will wonder "what all the fuss was about."

With his support now on record, Dent joins a small club of congressional Republicans who back marriage equality:

1. Rob Portman

In March 2013, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose son is gay, wrote an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch announcing his position reversal on same-sex marriage. "I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married," he wrote.

2. Mark Kirk

Returning to the Senate after a stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released a statement in support of same-sex marriage in April 2013. "Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most.  Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back-- government has no place in the middle," Kirk said.

3. Lisa Murkowski

In June 2013, days before the Supreme Court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wrote an op-ed announcing her support for same-sex marriage. "With the notion of marriage – an exclusive, emotional, binding ‘til death do you part’ tie – becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay?  I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less," she wrote.

4. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Noted as the first congressional Republican to voice her support for marriage equality, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in September 2011 backed the repeal of DOMA. Then in July 2012, she affirmed her support for same-sex marriage, telling a Washington Blade reporter when he asked if she was a supporter, "Oh, yeah. I am."

5. Richard Hanna

In December 2012, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) signed on to legislation to overturn the DOMA law and several months later signed on to a legal brief arguing that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry.