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Via Tumblr, McCaskill declares her support for marriage equality

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: On the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., used old and new media Sunday to explain why she now supports marriage equality.

Starting off with a quote from the Bible (old media), McCaskill laid out her stance via Tumblr (new media).

In a post on Tumblr, a social media site, she first cited a verse from 1 Corinthians (“And now abide faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest is these is love,”), then offered up some observations about both sides of the gay-marriage debate.

McCaskill then cut to the chase:

“I have come to the conclusion that our government should not limit the right to marry based on who you love. While churches should never be required to conduct marriages outside of their religious beliefs, neither should the government tell people who they have a right to marry.”

Such a statement is significant because it differs from her views back in 2004, during her unsuccessful bid for Missouri governor. In August 2004, McCaskill was competing in the Democratic primary against Gov. Bob Holden. But also on the ballot was a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

McCaskill sought to walk a fine line that summer, saying that she was against gay marriage – but that she saw no need for the constitutional amendment because the state already had a law against gay marriage.

Gay marriage did not come up much during her re-election contest last year because most of the attention was on Republican rival Todd Akin’s assertion about “legitimate rape.”

Since McCaskill likely won't face voters again until 2018, she can shift her stance publicly without much political danger. Although Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved that 2004 gay-marriage ban, it's unclear whether public sentiment has shifted in Missouri, as it has nationally. 

Major religious conservative groups in Missouri have continued to make clear they continue to oppose gay marriage.

However, gay rights activists believe that McCaskill's announcement offers a boost to their annual "Equality Day,'' set for Wednesday. Gay rights groups expect to show up at the state Capitol in Jefferson City.

On Monday, McCaskill sent out her full statement in an email to thousands of supporters, presumably to catch those who might not be acquainted with Tumblr.

In her Sunday Tumblr statement, McCaskill alluded to the evolution of her stance on gay marriage:

“My views on this subject have changed over time, but as many of my gay and lesbian friends, colleagues and staff embrace long-term committed relationships, I find myself unable to look them in the eye without honestly confronting this uncomfortable inequality. Supporting marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is simply the right thing to do for our country, a country founded on the principles of liberty and equality. “

McCaskill appears to have chosen Tumblr to lay out her views because, unlike character-limited Twitter (another favored medium), Tumblr allows her to write in detail in a personal perspective, but still do so in public.

Her Tumblr post swiftly attracted attention from national and regional media, as well as gay-rights groups.

PROMO, Missouri’s largest advocacy group from the LGBT community, tweeted its approval of McCaskill’s public statement: “Thank @clairemc for her support of marriage equality.”

PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman praised McCaskill in a statement, saying, "As we have seen with the president, our own Sen. Claire McCaskill has evolved on marriage equality. We are proud to have her represent fair-minded
Missourians in the Senate."

Progress Missouri, a Democratic-leaning group, also lauded McCaskill's statement.

Her Republican counterpart, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters in St. Louis on Monday that he still supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- put in place before he arrived in Congress in 1997.

"I support DOMA and I assume I haven't 'evolved' yet,'' Blunt said, referring to McCaskill's change of heart. Alluding to the "states' rights" issue, he said a key provision is that "states can't be forced to accept marital laws in states they don't agree with."

"My position on this has always been that some kind of civil contract or arrangement that lets people have the kind of visitation rights in hospitals and other rights that you can assign to almost any other individual by contract are fine with me,'' Blunt said. "I just think that marriage should be set aside for a man and a woman to be married to each other."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.