U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and his Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, are among many people who have adjusted their views on same-sex marriage during the last 20 years.
Warner, a Democrat, had consistently opposed gay marriage since 1996, when he made his first bid for public office, an unsuccessful run for the Senate. Warner changed his position in March 2013, saying that his views had "evolved" and his newfound support was "the inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone."
Gillespie remains opposed to same-sex marriage, a position he reaffirmed during a debate last week. But he has dropped his long-held support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, saying the issue should be left to each state to decide.
Virginia gave marriage certificates to gay couples for the first time last week on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeals of decisions striking down same sex marriage bans in five states, including Virginia.
With the issue embedded in headlines, we thought it would be a good time to review Warner’s and Gillespie’s records on gay marriage.
As a Senate candidate in 1996, Warner endorsed the Defense of Marriage Act approved by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton that year. It allowed states to refuse to recognize gay marriages that had been granted under the laws of other states.
As Virginia governor from 2002 to 2006, Warner said several times that he believed marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. But he thought a 2004 bill banning same-sex marriage went too far, saying its wording could void contracts between gay couples. The General Assembly rejected an amendment Warner offered that would have removed the threat to contracts from the bill and passed the legislation with a veto-proof majority.
Warner affirmed his opposition to gay marriage during his successful 2008 Senate campaign.
His switch became public in early 2013, when he joined 40 senators and 172 House members in signing an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. "To me, repeal of DOMA is an act of fairness," Warner said at the time. "Under DOMA, committed relationships legally recognized by some states are made financially and legally unequal in many ways."
The high court, in a 5-4 decision that June, struck down DOMA.
As we’ve noted, Gillespie has been consistent in his opposition to same-sex marriage, explaining that it goes against his Roman Catholic beliefs.
As chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004, Gillespie endorsed a GOP platform that called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. During a debate with Warner last week, Gillespie renounced that view during a discussion of the Supreme Court’s recent action that opened Virginia to same-sex marriages.
"As a Senator, I believe it’s the proper prerogative of the states to make these determinations and I do not support a federal marriage amendment or federal policy in this regard. The court, as you said, has ruled on this. It is the law in Virginia today and, as I do not believe that a federal law is the proper approach, then, of course, I accept the ruling -- the decision by the Supreme Court not to take up this decision of the circuit court."
The moderator, Chuck Todd of NBC, asked Gillespie if he no longer supports the amendment.
"When I was chairman of the Republican National Committee, it was the platform," he said. "It called for a federal marriage amendment. And as chairman of the RNC, I stood for the platform. But as a United States senator, I’m talking now about my policies and the policies I would pursue as a United States senator, and again, while I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, I don’t believe that it’s the proper role of the United States Senate to enact a federal marriage amendment. There are others who believe that it is. I believe it’s the proper prerogative of the states."
It should be noted, however, that Gillespie was publicly calling for a marriage amendment in 2004 at least six months before the GOP platform was published, and he expressed his support in personal terms.
In a speech to black ministers on Feb. 4, 2004, Gillespie said, "The Republican Party platform is clear: We believe marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman. We must pursue whatever policy is necessary to protect this institution, including a Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution."
Gillespie added, "There is a fine line between letting people live their lives as they choose and respecting their privacy, and forcing others to embrace their choices through government sanction. Those who say I must turn my back on the tenets of my faith -- in order to be accepted by them -- are the ones being intolerant, and it’s nothing less than religious bigotry."
NBCWashington.com, "WATCH: Senate Candidates Warner, Gillespie Debate in Va.," same-sex marriage comments start at 6:40, Oct. 7, 2014.
Web Archive of GOP.com, "Chairman Gillespie’s Comments to African-American Pastors," Feb. 5, 2004.
Republican National Convention party platform 2000, The American Presidency Project, July 31, 2000.
Republican Party Platform of 2004, The American Presidency Project, Aug. 30, 2004.
Email from Paul Logan, spokesman for Ed Gillespie, Oct. 8, 2014.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Senate candidates state views on the issues," Oct. 27, 1996.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Robb sees gay-rights foes as regressive," Sept. 11, 1996.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Warner: Same-sex marriage ban too strict," April 17, 2004.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Warner notes support for same-sex marriage," March 26, 2013.
Legislative Information System, HB751, 2004 session.
U.S. Supreme Court, "United States v. Windsor," June 26, 2013.
Republican Platform, "On civil rights," 2004.
Robert Sarvis, "Sarvis Looks Forward to Same-Sex Couples in Virginia Celebrating Their Marriages," Oct. 6, 2014.
Emails from Nicholas Cote, Sarvis spokesman, Oct. 7, 2014.