WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s announcement this week that he supports gay marriage provoked a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, praised the president Thursday for doing the “right thing, the courageous thing” and showing that he’s willing to re-evaluate issues.
“There are still those in this country who want their religious views to be imposed on others, or their social views to be imposed on others, rather than understanding we live in a pluralistic society and that we have to respect other people’s views and their rights,” Harkin said.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., however, disagreed with the president, saying that he continues to believe that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Johanns said he suspects the president’s announcement represents a political move that came after extensive polling. Support for gay marriage has grown over the past 15 years, with polls now showing the country about evenly split.
Johanns said the president should defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The Obama administration has elected not to do so.
Harkin illustrated how his position on the issue has evolved, just like the president’s. Harkin voted for the Defense of Marriage Act but is now a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal it.
“I believe that the time has come to recognize that this is an equal rights, a civil rights issue, and that people ought to be afforded those protections,” Harkin said.
Harkin said he’s proud of the Iowa Supreme Court for legalizing gay marriage in 2009.
Johanns took issue with casting gay marriage as an issue of civil rights.
“I see anxiety in many quarters from those who really fought civil rights battles, based upon the color of their skin, and I have so much respect for what they have come through — an inability to vote and poll taxes and on and on — that I can really understand what they are saying is that, ‘Look, if you cast everything in a civil rights tone then it minimizes the tremendous effort we made and the battles we went through to secure our rights,’” Johanns said. “That’s a very valid point.”
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