U. S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15th Dist.) became Pennsylvania’s first Republican Congressman to come out in support of same-sex marriage this week, and only the sixth in the nation.
In an interview with PGN Thursday, Dent, who voted for Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act banning same-sex marriage in 1996 as a state representative, said his views on marriage equality have been evolving.
He previously stated his support of civil unions and said last week’s court ruling overturning Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage equality motivated him to fully back same-sex marriage.
“I thought of making a statement last year after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act but I felt the state should have some say on this,” he said.
"After [U.S. District Court] Judge Jones ruled, he made a compelling case that 14th Amendment outweighed the 10th Amendment states’-rights provision and I thought that was a pretty strong case and I felt it was important to speak up now.”
Dent said his family, and the changing public views on the issue, also influenced his shift.
“I have had conversations with my own family and they see this issue differently than when I did in 1996 when I first voted on the state law,” he said. “At the time, a strong majority was in support of that legislation and I felt that I was representing my constituents. It is clear the times have changed and attitudes have moved on and so have I on this issue.”
Dent said a personal encounter he had just last weekend reinforced the normalcy of same-sex relationships.
“I took my wife to the movies over the weekend and I saw a guy I hadn’t seen in 20 years and we were chatting before the movie began and then this other fellow walked up and my friend introduced me to his spouse. And those kind of encounters are pretty normal,” he said. “It is not that big of a deal and probably in another 20 years or so, people will look back at this and think, what was the big deal?”
Dent has been supportive of a myriad of LGBT issues, including voting to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and co-sponsoring the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, the Uniting American Families Act and the Safe Schools Act.
There are only five other Republican members of Congress who publicly support marriage equality: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.),
Dent said that, with the rapidly changing societal acceptance of marriage equality, he expects the country will see more Republicans coming out in support of LGBT issues.
“There are plenty of Republicans who support marriage equality,” he said. “Fewer currently serve as elected officials but many prominent Republicans around the country are quite comfortable with marriage equality. I think it is a matter of more elected officials catching up to where Republican voters are.”