Gay Senator Comes Out As State Approves Same-Sex Marriage
While the country waits for rulings from the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, states are rushing ahead to reform their own regulations on marriage.
Several states have bills coming up on their legislative dockets that would allow gay couples to legally marry in their states. Rhode Island's Senate Judiciary Committee and Delaware's House are both set to vote on same-sex marriage bills today. Minnesota and Illinois are also engaged in fights over whether to open up marriage to gay couples.
But the biggest news this week comes out of Nevada where Monday night the state Senate voted to repeal an amendment to the state Constitution banning gay marriage and replace it with one requiring Nevada to recognize the practice.
The debate that preceded the vote brought heated, emotional appeals from members of the state legislature.
For the first time Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, announced his very personal connection to the debate.
"I'm black. I'm gay," Atkinson told the assembly, according to the Las Vegas Sun. "I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male."
Atkinson, a young single father and Chicago-native, has served as a Democratic member of the state's legislature for more than a decade.
His candor on the assembly floor was in step with his outspoken social media presence. Atkinson's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts offer glimpses of the person behind the legislator through family snapshots, sports commentary, an abundance of exclamation points and even a photo of the state senator in a hot tub with his dog.
As the bill was going to the floor, he shared a post that said, "The marriage equality bill is being heard is the Senate NOW…stay tuned for the results. *fingers crossed*"
With the bill's passage in the State senate it has begun the process of becoming approved in the state.
Stuart Gaffney of pro-gay marriage organization Marriage Equality USA sees states taking these votes into their own hands as a positive step for the nation.
"What we see all across the country is that peoples' opinions are changing very rapidly on marriage equality, actually faster than almost any other social issue of our time, and the reason is because people are getting to know their lesbian and gay friends, colleagues and neighbors - or in this case fellow members of the legislature - and realizing that the freedom to marry means the world to them but doesn't actually take away from anybody else," Gaffney told ABC News.
On the national level, several senators have recently come out in favor of gay marriage, starting with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who cited his relationship to his gay son as the impetus for changing his mind. Gaffney noted President Obama and President Clinton also mentioned their daughters and daughters' friends as what brought them to support marriage equality for same-sex couples.
"These personal voices matter a lot whether we're talking to our neighbors or whether we're talking to our elected officials," he said.
But not all states are moving towards legalizing same-sex marriage. Tom McClusky, senior vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, pointed out that some, like Indiana, have opted to wait until after the Supreme Court ruling to vote.
He criticized those lawmakers who had changed their positions on the issue because of personal connections with gay Americans.
"In this case I think the legislators, in leading with their hearts and not with their minds, are making bad choices for their constituents," McClusky said.
Before Rhode Island's vote today, all five Republican members of the state Senate expressed support for gay marriage.
Their voices echoed Gaffney's thoughts on the national trend towards accepting same-sex marriage.
"Our Senate Republican Caucus is deeply committed to the values of freedom, liberty and limited government. In accordance with those values, we believe that freedom means freedom for everyone, and that every citizen of Rhode Island deserves the freedom to marry the person they love," the Republicans wrote in a statement Tuesday. "We recognize that there is a national consensus building on this generational issue, and we are glad that support for the freedom to marry is growing within the Republican Party."