Final Four: The only Democratic senators who still oppose gay marriage

Two more Democratic senators have now evolved on the issue. Who will be the last standing?

The final four (clockwise): Mary Landrieu, Joe Manchin, Tim Johnson, Mark Pryor
(Image credit: United States Congress)

The wave of Democrats who've recently come out in support of same-sex marriage grew larger today, with two more senators announcing that they had evolved on the issue as well.

Indiana's Joe Donnelly and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp voiced their support for marriage equality in quick succession Friday morning, bringing the total number of sitting senators who support gay marriage to 53. (The tally includes Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.) It's a remarkable shift from last year, when, facing tough election contests, neither politician endorsed that position. Heitkamp at the time said that the issue should be up to the states — though she did not take a side in the larger debate — while Donnelly openly opposed gay marriage.

"In speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships," Heitkamp said in a statement.

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Donnelly, meanwhile, said the two big marriage equality cases currently before the Supreme Court helped him change his mind.

"With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all," he wrote in a Facebook post.

With those announcements, there are now only four sitting Democratic senators who oppose gay marriage. They are:

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)

Manchin has been a steadfast opponent of same-sex marriage, and a frequent thorn in the side of his Democratic allies. He notably broke ranks this year over a proposed assault weapons ban, and won his first Senate election in 2010 with an ad that showed him shooting a rifle at a Democratic-backed cap and trade bill. On Tuesday, his office provided a statement to Talking Points Memo reaffirming his beliefs.

"I believe that a marriage is a union between one man and one woman," he said in that statement. "My beliefs are guided by my faith, and I support the Defense of Marriage Act."

Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.)

Landrieu has taken a somewhat squishy stance on the issue. She told BuzzFeed's Rebecca Berg recently that she thinks people should be able to "love who they love," but that "my state has a very strong ban against gay marriage constitutionally, so I'm going to have to think really carefully and listen to the voters of my state about that issue." Landrieu is up for re-election next year in a state that, according to an analysis by The New York Times' Nate Silver, is the third-least-receptive in the nation to same-sex marriage. As such, she's not expected to change her mind any time soon.

Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.)

Pryor, like Landrieu, faces a daunting re-election bid next year. And as in Louisiana, same-sex marriage is deeply unpopular in Arkansas; Silver predicts that come 2020, it will be one of just six states without majority support for a same-sex-marriage ballot initiative.

"No Senate Democrat running in 2014 represents a redder state than he does — President Obama lost there by more than 20 points — and Pryor is a top GOP midterm target," says the National Journal's Alex Roarty. "Multiple Republicans, rising star Rep. Tom Cotton the most prominent among them, have publicly contemplated a campaign against him."

Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.)

Johnson is unique in that he's retiring at the end of the year, leading some to speculate that, given the minimal personal political risk, he'll be the next senator to change his mind. However, Johnson's son may enter the race to replace him, and "having a parent weigh in would lock him into a position he might not hold or want to hold," says Slate's Dave Weigel. Last week, Johnson's office told The Huffington Post that he remained opposed to gay marriage.

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