WASHINGTON -- And then there were eight.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., took his support for gay relationships a step further Monday when he announced he now backs the right to same-sex marriage.
"If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages?" Mr. Casey asked in a written statement.
That leaves just eight Democrats in the U.S. Senate who either oppose same-sex marriage or haven't taken a clear public stance on it.
Last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a pair of same-sex marriage cases, several of Mr. Casey's colleagues held a string of news conferences to announce they now support the right of gay people to wed -- Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jon Tester of Montana, then Mark Warner of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
And now the list includes Mr. Casey of Pennsylvania, a devout Catholic who previously expressed support for civil union but had stopped short of saying same-sex commitments deserved the same designation and rights of traditional marriages.
That changed Monday with an announcement that included a promise to work toward repealing the 1996 law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Known by the acronym DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act was at the center of a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. If the Supreme Court rules for plaintiff Edith Windsor of New York, the government will be forced to recognize same-sex marriage even if Congress doesn't repeal the law.
A decision is expected in June.
Opponents, including participants in last week's arguments, say that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and that gay people cannot have children and therefore should not be allowed to wed.
Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. It is not legal in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Casey said he decided to stand up for gay marriage after receiving numerous letters and phone calls from constituents, including some gay couples who said they pay thousands of dollars a year more in taxes than they would if they were in heterosexual marriages.
Some of those letters and calls were part of an organized effort by a group called Equality Pennsylvania to bombard Mr. Casey's Washington and district offices with pleas for support.
"I just want my family to be treated equally and with respect by my state and federal government," one constituent wrote in a letter that particularly touched the senator.
Mr. Casey said he could no longer "in good conscience take a position that denies her and her family the full measure of quality and respect."
In a telephone interview, Equality Pennsylvania executive director Tim Martin said he was encouraged by the announcement, which he learned about Monday afternoon in a phone call from the senator.
"He just said he would be issuing a statement and that I would like it," said Mr. Martin, whose group advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians.
"I think our campaign helped" encourage him to take a stand for gay marriage, Mr. Martin said. "Absolutely, it did."
Pennsylvania's Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has shown no signs of a willingness to move toward supporting gay marriage although he, like Mr. Casey, has politely listened, Mr. Martin said.
He said Mr. Casey's announcement is a promising development, but a lot more work still needs to be done at both the federal and state levels.
"What I really want people to take away from this discussion is a full sense of where [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] people are. This is a great step forward, but people can still be fired [in Pennsylvania] for being gay and there is no hate-crime protection here," he said. "Marriage is certainly important, but we need to look at the entire way we treat GLBT people."
Other groups and individuals also praised Mr. Casey for his announcement. They include the Pennsylvania progressive group Keystone Progress and Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, the first openly GLBT state legislator elected in Pennsylvania.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.