Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer changes tune, now supports gay marriage

The day after President Barack Obama voiced support for gay marriage, reversing the policy he established as a candidate for top office, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer released a statement announcing his own change of heart on the issue.

The Maryland Democrat's statement, released Thursday afternoon, is similar to Obama's explanation for reversing his opinion:

The word 'marriage' has held a specific meaning for centuries as the union between a man and a woman. But it has also meant, in a broader sense, a commitment of one person to another, recognized by each of them and by society.

I have believed that the phrase 'civil union' was an appropriate definition of a relationship that is both different and the same between two people of the same sex. And I have believed strongly that such couples must be treated equally under the law.

Because I believe that equal treatment is a central tenet of our nation, I believe that extending the definition of marriage to committed relationships between two people, irrespective of their sex, is the right thing to do and will not, in any way, undermine the institution of marriage so important to our society nor impose a threat to any individual marriage. It will, however, extend the respect due to every one of our fellow citizens that we would want for ourselves and our children.

Throughout his public career, Hoyer has supported granting states the freedom to craft their own policy regarding marriage, but he has said that he personally supports "the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman." While Hoyer has said he supports "equal rights" for gay and lesbian couples, this is the first time he has explicitly endorsed changing the legal definition marriage.

Hoyer, who holds the No. 2 leadership position among Democratic House members, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which gave states freedom not to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other jurisdictions where it is legal. In 2004, he opposed a Republican-led effort to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

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