GOP US Sen. Mark Kirk Supporting Same-Sex Marriage
By Brian Mackey, Alex Keefe, and Tony Arnold, with additional reporting from the Illinois Radio Network
Another prominent Illinois Republican has come out in favor of same-sex marriage. US. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made his announcement Tuesday on his website.
In a statement, Kirk framed his support for same-sex marriage in light of his debilitating stroke last year.
Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most." He said. "Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back -- government has no place in the middle."
Kirk is only the fourth Republican member of Congress to publicly endorse same-sex marriage.
Speaking later in the day with the Illinois Radio Network, Kirk was asked why he changed his views on allowing same-sex couples to marry.
"Most of us have gay acquaintances at work or at church," he said. "We know them. And the thought of legally discriminating against our own friends and coworkers is an anathema to me."
Kirk, the highest-ranking GOP elected official in Illinois, had previously steered clear of staking out a hard public stance on gay marriage. But his thinking has been evolving, and Kirk pointed to his friendship with a high school friend, who is gay.
Kirk now becomes the second Republican in the Senate to buck the party line and publicly support same-sex marriage. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman reversed his prior stance earlier this month after revealing his son is gay.
But on Tuesday, Kirk also told IRN he thinks gay marriage should be left to individual states, not the federal government.
“I would hope that we would restrain our appetite for power in Washington and not take over marriage law for the whole country,” Kirk said.
Kirk added that he was also inspired by the movie “Lincoln,” about Abraham Lincoln’s fight to end slavery.
"As a Republican leader, my job is to make sure that each generation is more free and has more dignity as an individual, which is a unique gift [from] the United States to the world," he said.
Kirk is now the second Senate Republican to announce his support, after Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
The senator’s comments mark the first time Kirk has publicly announced his full support of same-sex marriage, though his office has said the senator’s views on the issue have been evolving for some time. Behind the scenes, Kirk has been using his influence as Illinois’ highest-ranking Republican elected official to urge members of his party not to make too much noise in opposing same-sex marriage, which is an increasingly popular issue among key voting blocs.
In January, Kirk announced his support for embattled Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. A handful of GOP bosses began working to fire Brady after he bucked the party line and came out in favor of same-sex marriage. They had enough support to call a special meeting in early March, where some had hoped to vote him out. But Kirk began working the phones the day before the meeting, urging State Central Committee members not to oust Brady. The meeting was cancelled just hours before it was scheduled to start.
Also, in a February interview with Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ in Chicago, Kirk repeatedly dodged questions about whether he supported a same-sex marriage bill now pending in the General Assembly. He instead pointed to other votes he’s taken in favor of gay rights, such as one to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Gregory Angelo, director of the pro-gay-rights Log Cabin Republicans, welcomed the news. He said opposing same-sex marriage is a long-term loser for the GOP.
"The fact that there is an ongoing dialogue on this issue in the Republican Party, the fact that the GOP is not squelching debate and discussion about this, I think shows that we need to allow ourselves as a party to get past lockstep opposition to marriage equality," Angelo said.
The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party also endorsed same-sex marriage, and has since been fighting off attempts to remove him.
Legislation to legalize it passed the Illinois Senate with just one Republican voting "yes." That measure is pending in the Illinois House.
Gay rights advocates say Kirk's announcement that he supports gay marriage is "a sign of progress."
Rick Garcia is director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project. He said momentum is growing for marriage equality, especially among Republicans.
Opponents like Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute disagree. Higgins said Kirk and other Republicans who back gay marriage are contributing to the destruction of marriage and diminished religious liberty.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge to California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, and whether to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.