U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina says she supports marriage equality

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.)

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, one of the few Democratic senators who had not previously come out in support of same-sex marriage, said Wednesday that she now supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.)

Hagen made the announcement in an interview with Raleigh’s News & Observer, saying “we should not tell people who they can love or who they can marry.”

“I know there are strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for their opinions,” Hagan said in an interview. “But after much thought and prayer on my part this is where I am today.

“I know all our families do not look alike,” she added. “We all want the same thing for our families. We want happiness, we want health, prosperity, a bright future for our children and grandchildren. After conversations I’ve had with family members, with people I go to church with and with North Carolinians from all walks of life, I’ve come to my own personal conclusion that we should not tell people who they can love, or who they can marry. It’s time to move forward with this issue.”

Hagan’s announcement comes with much political risk; she faces a tough re-election campaign next year in a culturally conservative state.

Less than one year ago, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage by a 61-39 percent margin. Hagen had opposed the amendment, saying it could make it more difficult for N.C. companies to recruit talent.

Hagen joins Senate colleagues Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Begich of Alaska — all Democrats — who earlier this week also announced support for marriage equality.

Hagan is the 47th U.S. senator to throw her support behind same-sex marriage. Forty-three other Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and one Republican, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, had previously announced their support.

Nine Senate Democrats oppose gay marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s largest gay rights organizations and which tracks politicians’ views on gay marriage. They are Sens. 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 Republicans in the Senate besides Portman publicly supports gay marriage.

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