A majority of the U.S. Senate now supports same-sex marriage rights, following the endorsement offered Thursday by Sen. Bill Nelson, who became the 51st senator to declare his backing for the issue.
Like many of his colleagues, the Florida Democrat had been opposed to legally recognizing gay marriages. But in a statement to The Tampa Bay Times editorial board
, he said he was reversing his position based on his religious beliefs.
"If we are endowed by our Creator with rights, then why shouldn't those be attainable by gays and lesbians?" Nelson wrote. "Simply put, if The Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn't, and I won't.”
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Before Thursday, Nelson was one of seven Democratic senators who were still opposed to same-sex marriage, reports The Huffington Post. Most have been under pressure to change their views on the subject.
Nelson, for example, was targeted by a "Twitter bomb" campaign launched by Equality Florida on Tuesday. But it may have been easier for him to switch positions than the other six Democrats who hail from states much more conservative than Florida. All six states supported Republican Mitt Romney in last year's presidential race, while the Sunshine State went with President Barack Obama.
The six Democratic holdouts are: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas; Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; and Tim Johnson of South Dakota.
Republicans in the Senate, however, have been much slower than Democrats in voicing their support for same-sex marriage. So far only two — Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois — have come out in favor of it.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8, both of which ban same-sex marriages. The court heard arguments in both cases last month.
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