You know politicians. It can't be just a stand; it has to be a courageous stand.
That explains the recent rush, particularly among Democrats in the Senate, to get to the new correct side of the same-sex marriage issue.
Same-sex marriage is going to happen. It's already legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and the Supreme Court has before it two cases that could allow it to expand marriage for gays nationwide. Even if the Court doesn't rule accordingly, Nate Silver says his opinion data projects it will be legal in 32 states by 2016 and 44 by 2020.
The watershed moment came in the 2012 elections when, after 32 straight losses at the state level, voters approved same-sex measures in three statewide ballot initiatives. At that point, even our courageous congressional representatives could see the clear path before them.
So, who among the late converts do we take seriously? And what are we to make of the rest?
To date, 46 of the 55 Democrats in the Senate have come out in favor of same-sex marriage. So have President Obama—typically late to the game on these things—and early 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton. One must assume that no Democrat will even attempt to run in that cycle without supporting same-sex marriage. The money and the broad support will allow no other conclusion.
But as for those senators, it's hard to argue more than five of them have taken any real risk—Jon Tester in Montana, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Warner in Virginia, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Even then, Tester and McCaskill, who are not up for re-election until 2018, when the electoral playing field on this is expected to be quite different, and Warner, who remains popular in Virginia and is said to be angling for a spot on Hillary's ticket, are unlikely to feel any backlash. That leaves Begich and Hagan.
Sarah Palin notwithstanding, Alaska is not a big "socon" state—its poll numbers on same-sex marriage are near the national average— and the state's other senator, Lisa Murkowski, is said to be "evolving" on this issue. So Begich is not truly at risk for his stand either.
That leaves Hagan. She must run in 2014, during the midterm election of her party's second term in the White House. Moreover, she is running in a state that just passed a same-sex marriage ban. And her likely opponents, U.S. Reps. Patrick McHenry and Renee Ellmers, are both probably inclined to make a campaign issue of it.
Hagan leads in the polls now, in large part because no one else has announced. But she, more than any other Democrat in the Senate, must hope the climate continues to change in favor of same-sex marriage over the next 18 months.
What will be interesting is not watching those 45 safe Democrats take their victory laps over a "brave" conversion that actually required little bravery, but watching Hagan and the nine Democratic senators who have not flipped on this issue: Tom Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the Democratic Party's Gay Marriage Platform Good Politics?]
Some, such as Carper and Casey, won't flip, even though it would seem politically expedient, because of legitimate religious differences. Others, such as Landrieu and Pryor, clearly won't be allowed to flip because of electoral considerations.
What about the rest? Will any of them cross the line? Can any even match the backbone of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who opposed same-sex marriage until he found out his son was gay?
Because it doesn't take a lot of guts to support the inevitable, and pretty soon that will be the case everywhere.