Heitkamp! Donnelly! We're Down to Four Democratic Senators Who Don't Back Gay Marriage

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 5 2013 10:30 AM

Heitkamp! Donnelly! We're Down to Four Democratic Senators Who Don't Back Gay Marriage

164229817
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) speaks during a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee March 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

When Delaware Sen. Tom Carper evolved on gay marriage, I speculated that Florida Sen. Bill Nelson would be the next to develop the sixth finger. He wasn't up again until 2018; he had the most to lose then by pissing off liberal donors. And indeed, Nelson underwent the inevitable epiphany.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

I wondered who'd drop next. Would the red state Democrats up in 2014 go? They needed liberal money as much as anybody else. Or would it be the Democrats elected this year, who aren't up until 2018, by which time gay marriage will surely be a majority position?

Advertisement

Door number two. Here's Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who blazed past Richard Mourdock, the Other Rape Gaffe Candidate, to win last year.

In recent years, our country has been involved in an important discussion on the issue of marriage equality. While serving in the House of Representatives, I had the opportunity to act on a core belief of mine: we are a stronger country when we draw on the strengths of all Americans. I voted to repeal ‘don't ask, don't tell’ and was an original supporter of the bill that would make it illegal todiscriminate against someone in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. It is also for that reason that I oppose amending either Indiana’s or our nation’s constitution to enshrine in those documents an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ instead of a ‘we.’ With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.

And here's North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who's just an extraordinarily adroit politician.

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. I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief. The makeup of families is changing, but the importance of family is enduring.

Both of these Democrats check the boxes drawn by Benjy Sarlin: Neither of them use the "e" word, evolution, which is fine by me. Nate Silver, because he's Nate Silver, predicted that gay marriage would be at the cusp of majority support in 2016, and fully there by 2020. (He imagined a North Dakota amendment succeeding narrowly in 2016, and an Indiana amendment failing by 0.3 percentage points.)

Where does that leave the hold-outs? South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson is retiring this year, but his son Brendan may run to replace him; Silver thinks the state is seven years away from full gay marriage support. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin isn't up again until 2018, and he holds the seat of probably the most vocally anti-gay Democrat of the last 20 years, the late Robert Byrd. But Silver thinks that West Virginia flips by 2017 or so.

That leaves Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor. If we're taking Silver's word as gospel, neither state is going to be "pro-equality" in the next few cycles. In 2004, both states passed gay marriage bans with supermajorities—75 percent in Arkansas, 78 percent in Louisiana.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?