U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has become just the third sitting Republican senator to come out in support of same-sex marriage, after she posted an op-ed Wednesday on her website explaining her new stance.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk are the only other Republicans in the Senate to endorse gay marriage.
Murkowski acknowledged she had previously supported defining marriage as existing only between a man and a woman, "but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift."
"I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government," Murkowski wrote. "When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values. I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values: it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples' lives -- while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another."
The move comes in the leadup to a pair of Supreme Court rulings on the issue of gay marriage, including one that could see the ban on federal benefits for same-sex couples under the Defense of Marriage Act -- which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman -- lifted.
Murkowski had previously said that her views on gay marriage were "evolving," so the move Wednesday didn't come as a complete surprise, though it still makes her an oddity among her GOP colleagues. Murkowski is often considered a more moderate Republican, and had previously voted in support of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which barred gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
Murkowski said that her stance on gay marriage was decided in part after meeting a lesbian couple -- at least one of whom served in the National Guard -- who had adopted four siblings. And yet, Murkowski said, this couple could not receive the same benefits guaranteed to spouses.
"This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence," she wrote.
Murkowski joins her Democratic colleague and Alaska's other senator, Mark Begich, in support of gay marriage. Don Young, Alaska's sole U.S. representative, said earlier this year he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, but that the issue of gay marriage should be decided at the state level.