How Politicians Have Shifted With Polls on Gay Rights

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Gay Rights: Cory Booker, Chuck Hagel Shift Views

"Every poll shows that if someone knows a gay person they are far more apt to support full equality and equal rights," Ellner said. "As more and more Americans encounter married gay and lesbian Americans, there is greater acceptance that gay Americans are like all Americans and want the same thing for their families…what we have been fighting for is love, commitment, and family."

The gay rights and same-sex marriage movement has moved quickly since President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, after it was passed with strong majorities in the House and Senate. The law, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectively banned same-sex marriages.

Now, nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. But in 1996 politicians who have now so vocally evolved on the issue, like Vice President Joe Biden, voted to pass the law opposing such marriages.

Many politicians are trying to keep up with public opinion. In 1996 Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb, a Democrat, was the only southerner at the time to vote against the passage. "I feel very strongly that this legislation is wrong," he said at the time.

"Despite its name, the Defense of Marriage Act does not defend marriage against some imminent, crippling effect," Robb said. "Although we have made huge strides in the struggle against discrimination based on gender, race, and religion, it is more difficult to see beyond our differences regarding sexual orientation. The fact that our hearts don't speak in the same way is not cause or justification to discriminate."

As Americans have become more accepting of both gay rights and same sex marriage, Robb looks prescient, but then only 67 members of the House and 14 senators voted against DOMA. There were some high-profile Democrats, besides Biden, who voted for it, including Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who now serves as Democratic Whip. In May he said he too had changed his mind, arguing in a statement that "extending the definition of marriage to committed relationships between two people, irrespective of their sex, is the right thing to do."

Even Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, now says he is supportive of same-sex marriage.

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