JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill says she now believes that gay couples should be allowed to marry, a change from her previously nuanced stance during last year's re-election campaign in which she defended the right of Missouri voters to outlaw same-sex weddings.
The Democratic senator's support for gay marriage is a matter of both personal belief and public policy, her spokesman said Monday. McCaskill declared her position on her blog Sunday evening in advance of U.S. Supreme Court arguments on the topic later this week.
"I have come to the conclusion that our government should not limit the right to marry based on who you love," McCaskill said on her Tumblr site. "While churches should never be required to conduct marriages outside of their religious beliefs, neither should the government tell people who they have a right to marry."
The court is to hear a challenge Tuesday to California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, then arguments Wednesday concerning a part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that bars same-sex couples who are legally married from receiving federal tax, pension and other benefits available to other married people.
Missouri voters overwhelmingly adopted a constitutional amendment in 2004 defining marriage as between a man and a woman. During her unsuccessful campaign for governor that year, McCaskill said she opposed gay marriage but also opposed the constitutional amendment, because Missouri already had a similar state law.
"I just didn't think it was an appropriate thing to put in our constitution," McCaskill said during an October 2004 gubernatorial debate.
McCaskill has generally shied away from discussing gay marriage during her Senate campaigns. But she defended Missouri's right to ban gay marriage when asked last June about a federal appeals court decision striking down certain parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
"It's been decided in Missouri. It's in our constitution. I don't quarrel with that decision," McCaskill said nearly 10 months ago. "I, for one, think it's much better for these decisions to be made at the state level, like we have here in Missouri."
McCaskill acknowledged in her Sunday posting that "my views on this subject have changed over time."
"But as many of my gay and lesbian friends, colleagues and staff embrace long term committed relationships, I find myself unable to look them in the eye without honestly confronting this uncomfortable inequality," McCaskill said. "Supporting marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is simply the right thing to do for our country, a country founded on the principals of liberty and equality."
President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage last year. Other politicians also have recently followed suit, including former Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
Former President Bill Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act — which requires the federal government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages — but he recently wrote an op-ed saying it's time to overturn it.