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Heitkamp, Donnelly Join Ranks of Gay Marriage Supporters

In near-simultaneous statements, two newly elected Democratic senators from traditionally red states announced support for allowing gay marriages, leaving just four Senate Democrats remaining.

“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,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said in a statement.

“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,” the North Dakota Democrat added.

Heitkamp was by many accounts the most surprising Democratic victory of the 2012 Senate campaign cycle in an open seat race created by the decision of fellow Democrat Kent Conrad to not seek another term.

Likewise in Indiana, a state where GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney took more than 54 percent of the vote, then-Rep. Joe Donnelly scored a victory in the Senate race against Republican Richard Mourdock, who had made controversial statements about abortion.

In a Friday morning posting on Facebook, Donnelly noted that he had already opposed attempts to enshrine a marriage definition in the state and federal constitutions and, while serving in the House, supported ending the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military.

Donnelly, like Heitkamp, took the next step in a public announcement on Friday.

“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,” he said.

Donnelly and Heitkamp issued their statements one day after Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson made a similar move, becoming the 51st senator overall to express support for same-sex marriage rights. Only Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas have steered clear of supporting gay marriage in public statements as a major shift has taken place within the Democratic party on the issue.

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