GOP Congressman Breaks With Party On Marriage Equality

GOP Congressman Breaks With Party On Marriage Equality

In Pennsylvania, the tide is turning on same-sex marriage. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R), who represents Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district, announced his support of same-sex marriage in a statement released by his office.

“I suspect that that view will prevail over time, so much so that I suspect that in a few decades people will look back on all this and say, ‘what was all the fuss about?’” Dent told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dent’s announcement comes a week after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. After the decision, Governor Tom Corbett (R) — an outspoken opponent of marriage equality — declined to challenge the court’s decision.

Dent, a moderate whose district includes the city of Allentown, often breaks with the rest of the GOP. In January 2013, for example, Dent bucked the more extreme members of the Republican Party and voted to raise the debt ceiling. He has also expressed timid support for raising the federal minimum wage, as long the bill is paired with other job-creating measures (he previously voted for a minimum-wage hike in 2007).

Dent previously backed Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Law, and similar measures in Congress. But now, the congressman argues, his position on the issue has shifted to reflect the opinions of his constituents.

“The American public’s views on this issue have shifted. So have mine,” he said in the statement.

Dent’s evolution on the issue may better align him with young people and women, two voting blocs that have been elusive for GOP candidates in recent years.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Pennsylvania voters support same-sex marriage by a 57 percent to 37 percent margin. Women in the state support marriage equality in larger numbers, 60 percent to 34 percent. And voters aged 18 to 29 expressed overwhelming support: 80 percent back same-sex marriage, while just 15 percent oppose it.

Aside from political pragmatism, Dent argues his conservative ideology also explains his decision to evolve on same-sex marriage. For Dent, it is a small-government issue.

“Life is too short to have the force of government stand in the way of two adults whose pursuit of happiness includes marriage,” Dent said.

He further expounded on this idea in his interview with the Inquirer. “At the end of the day, it struck me that it’s important that we protect individual liberty and there should be a more limited role of government in these types of matters,” Dent told the paper.

Photo: Fight Colorectal Cancer via Flickr

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