HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday that he now supports gay marriage, joining a growing list of political leaders publicly changing their stance on the issue.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who last year affirmed support for gay marriage, said Tuesday that he will co-sponsor an effort this year to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.
Tester, re-elected just last year, released a short statement affirming his support for gay couples.
"Montanans believe in the right to make a good life for their families," Tester said. "How they define a family should be their business and their business alone. I'm proud to support marriage equality because no one should be able to tell a Montanan or any American who they can love and who they can marry."
The position change on the issue came on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over California's ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the high court will hear arguments concerning a part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that bars same-sex couples who are legally married from receiving federal tax, pension and other benefits available to other married people.
Tester in the past has opposed gay marriage, pointing to the decision by Montana voters in 2004 to amend the state Constitution to prevent same-sex marriages. But the Democrat said the time has come to extend the rights to gay couples.
Tester was first elected in 2006 in a race where he quietly announced opposition to gay marriage, and he rarely made it a noteworthy issue. In that race, he said that although he opposed gay marriage, he would not vote to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban it. He also said at the time that he would support certain allowances for gay couples.
Other prominent politicians also have recently stated their support of gay marriage, including U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia. President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage last year.
Montana's congressional delegation remains split on the issue. Baucus first told reporters in the state last year that he supports gay marriage. His office said Tuesday that Baucus will now take a lead role in repealing the 1996 federal law that opposes gay marriage.
"The federal government should not be getting involved in people's private lives," Baucus said in a statement. "Grown adults should be free to choose who they spend their lives with in a committed relationship."
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said last year on the campaign trail that he opposes gay marriage.