Washington • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says gay Americans should be able to get married, a new position that shows President Barack Obama isn't the only politician whose views are evolving.
Reid, D-Nev., is the highest-ranking Mormon in the U.S. government and up until now has said he agrees with his faith's opposition to gay marriage, but on Wednesday, Reid aligned himself with Obama's newfound embrace for the legalization of same-sex unions.
"My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it's no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married," Reid said.
On Thursday, reporters asked Reid if he would vote to legalize same sex marriage if it was on the ballot in Nevada and he nodded yes, even though he previously voted for the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Reid's stance is far from the stated position of the LDS Church, which considers homosexual behavior a sin and has repeatedly campaigned against attempts to sanction same-sex relationships, though in recent years it has supported political efforts to provide some legal protections to gay people.
Mitt Romney, a Mormon and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, has stuck close to the LDS position, telling a Denver TV reporter Wednesday: "I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender and I don't favor civil unions if they're identical to marriage other than by name. My view is domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but the others are not."
On more than one occasion, Reid has found his views on issues surrounding gay marriage departing from those of his faith, not that this would in any way threaten his standing in the church. LDS leaders regularly point to its statement on relationships with government, which says public officials who are Mormon make their own decisions and may not agree "with one another or even with a publicly stated church position."
Church leaders have argued the legalization of gay marriage would undermine the centuries-old institution sanctioned by God. That's a position Reid dismissed Wednesday.
"The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family's life, always struck me as absurd," Reid said.
In a 2006 interview posted on the LDS Church's public relations website, mormonnewsroom.org, Elder Lance B. Wickman said the argument that gay marriages have no effect on heterosexual marriages is "the ultimate sophistry of those advocating same-gender marriage."
"Either there is marriage as it is now defined and as defined by the Lord, or there is what could thus be described as genderless marriage. The latter is abhorrent to God," Wickman said.
That same year, the LDS Church announced its support for a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as a relationship only between a man and a woman. The Senate took a procedural vote on the amendment in June.
Reid voted against it, saying it had no chance to pass and was an attempt by Republicans to distract the public from more serious issues. It was just one example of Reid taking a position on gay issues that ran counter to his faith.
In 2009, Reid told gay activists in a private meeting that he thought the LDS Church should have stayed out of Proposition 8 fight in California, the ballot measure that banned gay marriage, because the public relations backlash hurt missionary efforts. Courts have since overturned it.
Reid's spokesman at the time, Jon Summers, said: "While Senator Reid agrees with his church that marriage is between a man and a woman, he also believes that the resources that went into the Proposition 8 effort could have been put to better use."
Despite these differences, Reid voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman and allows states to ignore gay marriages sanctioned in other states. And he also voted for Nevada's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
On Wednesday, Reid made it clear that he thinks both laws won't stand.
"In talking with my children and grandchildren, it has become clear to me they take marriage equality as a given," Reid said. "I have no doubt that their view will carry the future."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke said Thursday that he would support Utah's ban on same-sex marriage but endorsed a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"As your governor, I will uphold the Utah state Constitution, which defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman," Cooke said.
However, said Cooke, a retired two-star general, he would not condone bullying or discrimination and would support a state law patterned after Salt Lake City's ordinance, supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which prohibits employment or housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
"I believe this position should be adopted by the state Legislature and by all Utah citizens statewide," Cooke said in a statement. "As your governor, I will not tolerate any kind of illegal discrimination against any faction of our citizens."
Gov. Gary Herbert reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Marriage is the recognized union between one man and one woman only. That is all that needs to be said," Herbert said in a statement.
In the past, Herbert has opposed a statewide anti-discrimination law, saying that it is an issue best left to the cities.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who could not be reached for comment earlier, said Thursday he feels no need to revisit his views on gay marriage, which he says come from his Mormon faith and conversations with Utahns.
"I think marriage is between a man and a woman," Matheson said Thursday. "In this case I don't agree with Barack Obama"