Democratic Candidates Mixed on Gay Marriage

Now that President Obama has completed his "evolution" on same-sex marriage, Democratic candidates must figure out what to say about it. Some have seemed reluctant.

Among the handful of Democrats in competitive Senate races, only two offered full  support for the president's newfound position.

"I am proud of President Obama's strong record of promoting fairness and equality. These are values I share, that we all share, and the pride I take in the President's recognition today comes not just at a deeply personal level, but also because he has done the right thing for so many people," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the openly gay congresswoman running for Wisconsin's open Senate seat.

If elected, Baldwin would become the nation's first openly gay senator.  "I am pleased that the president has today joined a growing number of people across the country who are moving forward on the issue of marriage equality and equal opportunity for all Americans," she said in a statement posted to her website.

Rep. Shelly Berkley, D-Nev., similarly backed Obama's stance in full. "I have been a longtime supporter of  marriage equality for all Americans and am glad President Obama has embraced this civil right," Berkley said in a statement provided through her campaign.

The rest, however, either split with the president, were noncommittal, or didn't say anything.

Rep. Joe Donnelly, running for Senate against Republican Richard Mourdock in Indiana, flatly rejected the president's view. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Donnelly affirmed his position that marriage only exists between a man and a woman and did not feel pressured to change that view in light of Obama's conversion.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who was elected in 2006 and now faces uncertain reelection prospects, also split from the president. Tester "supports civil unions for committed same-sex couples, but in Montana, marriage is between one man and one woman," spokeswoman Andrea Helling told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

The campaign of Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic Senate candidate in North Dakota did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Two other candidates walked a narrow line of supporting Obama without fully agreeing with him.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, running a tough reelection race against the winner of a three-way Republican primary, deferred to the president without endorsing his view. "Claire recognizes this is a very personal issue for many Missourians," Senate spokesman John LaBombard told the Springfield News-Leader, adding that McCaskill believes states should "take the lead in determining marriage equality. " The state of Missouri's position on this issue has been clearly established since 2004 and nothing about today's announcement changes that." Missouri voters backed a gay-marriage ban 71 percent to 29 percent in August 2004.

Virginia's Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Obama loyalist, seems to hold the view Obama did before the president announced his shift on Wednesday.

At a breakfast hosted by the Democratic think tank Third Way on Tuesday, a day before Obama's ABC interview, Kaine reacted to Vice President Biden's support for gay marriage. "I believe in the legal equality of relationships," Kaine said. "The debate about, you know, is it marriage? Is it civil union? Is it domestic partnership? I just kind of let that one go and say should committed couples be treated the same by law, and I think the answer is yes." In those statements, Kaine essentially endorsed the position Obama held before announcing his shift on Wednesday.

Campaign spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine reaffirmed that stance to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday, a day after Obama's interview.

"Governor Kaine believes in equal treatment under the law," Hoffine said. "While he does not believe government should tell faith congregations what unions to recognize for religious purposes, he does believe that all committed couples, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the same legal rights and responsibilities."

Unlike the interest-groups and politicians with stark views on gay marriage, who either lauded or criticized Obama within hours of his about-face, on-the-record comments from these candidates (or, rather, their spokespeople) have been much slower to arrive.

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