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Tim Johnson latest Dem to back marriage equality

Associated Press

Just over the last two weeks, 10 Senate Democrats have announced their support for marriage equality, and today, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota became #11.

"After lengthy consideration, my views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation," Johnson said in a statement. "This position doesn't require any religious denomination to alter any of its tenets; it simply forbids government from discrimination regarding who can marry whom."

Johnson, it's worth emphasizing, recently announced he is retiring at the end of his term, which tends to have a liberating effect on some members when it comes to taking positions on contentious issues.

In terms of metrics, of the 55-member Senate Democratic caucus, 52 are now on record backing marriage equality. The only remaining holdouts are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Landrieu, by the way, told CNN the other day that she personally believes "people should love who they love and marry who they want to marry," but she feels obligated to follow the will of the people of Louisiana. So I guess she's kinda sorta there, but not quite.

Regardless, Johnson's announcement offers me an excuse to emphasize a point I've been meaning to mention. Why are so many Democrats rushing to make this announcement? Some of this is clearly related to the Supreme Court arguments and the polls showing dramatic shifts in public opinion.

But I also believe Dems are sensitive to blowback -- partisan, journalistic, or otherwise -- and they notice that when senators announce their support for marriage equality, it's followed by near-total silence from Republicans.

When a Senate Democrat announces support for a tax increase, the RNC goes berserk. When a Senate Democrat announces support for socialized medicine, the RNC goes to Defcon 3. But when a Senate Democrat announces support for same-sex marriage, the RNC doesn't even issue a perfunctory press release.

And this isn't because Republicans have moderated on gay rights; it's because they just don't see the upside anymore. They know the public is on the other side.

For Senate Dems who want to back equal marriage rights, but are worried about political/electoral consequences, this matters -- indeed, arguably nothing matters more. When they see their colleagues make these announcements, and face no adverse consequences whatsoever, it encourages them to do the same.