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Home state politics inform Dem senators' gay marriage hesitance

Nine Democratic senators have declined to back same-sex marriage amid a wave of announcements by their colleagues this week in support of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

The political climates in each of these senators' home states -- where some of these Democrats must stand for re-election in 2014 -- helps explain why so many of them seem inclined to stay mum on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Mark Pryor, Arkansas

WHAT HE’S SAID: Per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pryorspokesman Michael Teague said that Pryor, whose seat Republicans are already circling as a pick-up opportunity next fall, has a “moral belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE STATE: Wednesday, the Arkansas House passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition to same-sex marriage; the state approved an amendment barring same-sex marriage in 2004, which passed with 75 percent percent of the vote.

A University of Arkansas poll found in October 2012 that 18 percent of the state's likely voters supported same-sex marriage and just 20 percent supported civil unions. 55 percent of Arkansans opposed any legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

Mary Landrieu, Louisiana

WHAT SHE’S SAID: "According to the U.S. Constitution, marriage and family law are reserved for the states," Landrieu, who will likely face several gay marriage opponents in her battle for re-election, said, per the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "The people of Louisiana have made clear that marriage in our state is restricted to one man and one woman.”

The New Orleans-based Forum for Equality, which advocates for same-sex marriage rights, acknowledgedthe “political realities that exist in Louisiana” and said they were glad Landrieu supported legislation that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act).

WHAT’S GOING ON: Louisiana passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004, with 78 percent of the state's voters in favor of it.

Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota

WHAT SHE’S SAID: "I think that this is a state issue," Heitkamp said during her 2012 campaign, according to local affiliate KVRR. "I think that this is a distraction…here we go again talking about things that aren't about jobs and improving the economy and getting this country moving."

WHAT’S GOING ON: North Dakotans approveda gay marriage ban in 2004, with 73 percent approving of the ban versus 27 disapproving. The state also has the lowest percentage of residents who openly identify themselves as LGBT, according to a six-month Gallup survey released in February 2013.

Joe Manchin, West Virginia

WHAT HE’S SAID: Manchin still supports the Defense of Marriage Act, while his Democratic Senate counterpart, Jay Rockefeller, announced his opposition Monday, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.

Manchin was also the only Senate Democrat to vote against a bill that included the repeal of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2010. That bill failed, but he missed the vote on a subsequent, standalone version of the repeal, citing a family obligation.

WHAT’S GOING ON: West Virginia passed a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman in 2000. A constitutional ban on gay marriage was thwarted by Democrats in the House of Delegates in February 2010, and another attempt in 2012 also failed.

One Democratic delegate, John Doyle, introduced a civil unions bill in February 2012. He said at the time, “I'm not going to introduce a gay marriage bill simply because it has no chance of passing the West Virginia Legislature. We just might be able to get a civil union bill through, so I'm going to give it a shot.”

Tim Johnson, South Dakota

WHAT HE’S SAID:  The office of the retiring senator toldthe Huffington Post this week that “he has not changed his position on marriage equality,” which amounted to a “no,” the office clarified. Politico reportedthat Johnson’s spokesman noted that Johnson now opposes DOMA.

WHAT’S GOING ON: South Dakota passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006 by a relatively narrow margin, 52 percent of the vote. According to the LA Times, the state was divided at the time: “A poll released Friday by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader found a virtual deadlock; 47 percent of likely voters oppose the amendment, 46 percent support it.” 

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley was one of 19 state attorneys general to signan amicus brief in support of the states’ rights position in the Prop 8 case. But a former South Dakota senator, Larry Pressler, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, joinedthe amicus brief signed by Republicans in support of same-sex marriage.

Joe Donnelly, Indiana

WHAT HE’S SAID: Donnelly told Fort Wayne affiliate WANE last week that he is still against same-sex marriage but supports giving them all the benefits of heterosexual couples.

WHAT’S GOING ON: Lawmakers in Indiana, which currently bans same-sex marriage by statute, are planning a vote on a proposed ban but will wait to hear what the Supreme Court has to say on the subject before putting it up as a ballot referendum.

But a ban might not make it past voters in 2014 – a December WISH-TV/Ball State Hoosier survey found that only 38 percent of respondents would support a ban, versus 54 percent who would oppose it. That doesn’t mean voters are ready to legalize gay marriage though, as they are split at 45 percent on each side of the issue.

Bill Nelson, Florida

WHAT HE’S SAID: “My personal preference is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said, according to CBS Miami.

WHAT’S GOING ON: Florida voters approved a gay marriage ban in 2008, with 62 percent in favor. But a Washington Post poll in October 2012 found that 54 percent of Florida voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, with 33 percent in opposition.

Tom Carper, Delaware  

WHAT HE’S SAID: Carper’s office emphasized the positions he’s taken in support of same-sex couples. His team wroteto the Huffington Post, “Sen. Carper was proud to support Delaware’s efforts to enact Civil Union legislation and earlier this month he joined 211 of his Congressional colleagues in co-signing the Amicus brief that urges the Supreme Court to invalidate Section 3 of DOMA.”

WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE STATE: Delaware, which approved civil unions in 2011, could soon see a same-sex marriage bill, Gov. Jack Markell (D) predicted Tuesday: “Our legislative session ends in June. I’d say at this point, there’s a good chance a bill will hit my desk. I can’t be certain with how the legislation goes,” he told CBS Philadelphia.

Public opinion in Delaware matches the latest national numbers (NBC/WSJ’s December 2012 poll found that 51 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage). A poll conducted by Global Strategy Group on behalf of pro-gay marriage Equality Delaware found that 54 percent of Delawareans favored legislation granting equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

Bob Casey, Pennsylvania

WHAT HE’S SAID: Casey, who was re-elected in 2012, “has supported civil unions and he is closely following the debate around DOMA,” his spokesman, John Rizzo, toldPennLive this week. “He intends to thoroughly review any legislation on this when it comes before the Senate.”

WHAT’S GOING ON: Progressive organizations say their supporters bombarded Casey’s office with 10,000 calls and emails Wednesday urging him to support same-sex marriage.

A Franklin and Marshall poll found earlier this year that 52 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania supported same-sex marriage and 41 percent opposed it, a swing of 19 percentage points since 2006.