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ND's Heitkamp, Indiana's Donnelly now support gay marriage

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp speaks Friday at a community roundtable in Fargo that looked at the issues of homelessness and affordable housing in the Fargo-Moorhead area and surrounding region. Heitkamp said she supports the idea of gay marriage, despite being Catholic and representing a traditionally conservative state.

North Dakota's freshman Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Friday she supports marriage equality for same-sex partners, making her the highest-profile elected official in the state to back gay marriage.

Heitkamp said her decision was the result of conversations she has had with North Dakotans across the state and based on a duty she feels toward friends who are in long-term, committed relationships but who are not allowed the same kind of recognition and privileges she and her husband enjoy.

"I just couldn't be part of that discrimination anymore. I don't want to disappoint friends anymore," Heitkamp said Friday in Fargo, where she led a roundtable discussion on affordable housing.

Some senators have cited the U.S. Supreme Court's discussion of marriage equality as their reason for re-evaluating their position, but Heitkamp said she was not politically motivated.

"It was an ethical and moral decision," she said in an interview.

Earlier Friday, Heitkamp issued a written statement, which read:

"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.

"I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief," she said.

Heitkamp said she and fellow freshman Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., struggled with the decision to publicly support gay marriage, as both are Catholic and represent traditionally conservative states. In the end, both senators released statements in support of marriage equality just minutes apart Friday.

In response to a request asking for his position on same-sex marriage, the staff of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., released this statement:

"Senator Hoeven's position hasn't changed. He believes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman."

Minnesota Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar both support marriage equality for same-sex couples, and both voted for a bill that attempted to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Contacted by phone Friday, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

North Dakota's Republican freshman Rep. Kevin Cramer referenced the state's constitutional ban against gay marriage in voicing his support in a statement issued Friday.

"My position is the same as the vast majority of North Dakotans, who, in 2004, voted by nearly 3 to 1 to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman," Cramer said in the statement.

According to The Associated Press, Heitkamp and Donnelly joined a rapidly growing list of senators who support gay marriage that includes 49 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and two Republicans.

There are now only four Democrats in the Senate who have not expressed support for gay marriage, the AP reported: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Two Republican senators, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio, have announced their support for gay marriage.

Reporter Brandi Jewett contributed to this report.