RALEIGH, N.C. — Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina said Wednesday that she backs marriage rights for same-sex couples, joining a growing number of Democratic Party politicians ahead of her reelection race next year.
Hagan announced her position as the Supreme Court heard arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
“Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue,” Hagan said on Facebook. “After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry.”
Hagan last year opposed a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, saying it could make it more difficult for companies to recruit talent. President Obama announced his support for the unions the day after 61 percent of North Carolina voters backed the gay-marriage amendment last May.
The amendment reflected North Carolina’s urban-rural divide on social issues. The question passed in 92 of 100 counties, while the counties surrounding Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Charlotte were among those where the question was defeated.
Hagan became the 47th US senator to support gay marriage. Forty-three other Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats, and one Republican, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, had previously announced their support.
Nine Senate Democrats oppose gay marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest gay rights organizations that tracks politicians’ views. They are Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
No other Republican in the Senate besides Portman publicly supports gay marriage.
North Carolina’s senior senator, Republican Richard Burr, declined to discuss his view during an interview Wednesday other than to say he has “personal opinions.”
Burr called marriage an issue for states to decide.
“I don’t believe it’s my role to influence the decisions that are made in North Carolina that are not federal,” Burr said.
Burr said Wednesday that he has been consistent on the issue, but was not a vocal public backer of last year’s amendment. He co-sponsored a 2006 measure to amend the US constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In 2011, Burr criticized Obama’s announcement that the Justice Department would not defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“Traditional marriage is a core value that has strengthened our nation, and it is a value that is protected by federal law,” Burr said.
Hagan’s position carries political risks. She was elected in 2008 on the day that Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes, marking the first victory for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1976. But North Carolina was the only battleground state Obama lost last year to Mitt Romney on the way to reelection.
An Election Day exit poll conducted in November found that one-third of voters supported same-sex marriage.
Hagan believes religious institutions should not have to conduct same-sex marriages if that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs.
“I think as a civil institution, this issue’s time has come and we need to move forward,” Hagan said. “The fabric of North Carolina and what makes our state so special is our families and our common desire for a brighter future for our children. No matter what your family looks like, we all want the same thing for our families: happiness, health, prosperity, a bright future for our children.”
won’t challenge McConnell
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Actress Ashley Judd announced Wednesday that she will not run for US Senate in Kentucky against Republican leader Mitch McConnell, saying she had given serious thought to a campaign but decided her responsibilities and energy need to be focused on her family.
The former Kentucky resident tweeted her decision.
“Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate. I have spoken to so many Kentuckians over these last few months who expressed their desire for a fighter for the people & new leader,” Judd wrote.
“While that won’t be me at this time, I will continue to work as hard as I can to ensure the needs of Kentucky families are met by returning this Senate seat to whom it rightfully belongs: the people & their needs, dreams, and great potential. Thanks for even considering me.”
Judd, 44, had hinted last week that she was near a decision about the race.
Now living in a suburb of Nashville, Judd had said little publicly about her intentions.