By Paul C. Barton, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Echoing a growing number of Democratic politicians, Rep. Jim Cooper said Tuesday his support for gay marriage developed over his years in office and that he sees the issue mattering for economic development as well as civil rights.
Tennessee Republicans, meanwhile, continued to express opposition while saying the issue is one for the states.
The comments of Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, came in an interview and followed his prepared statement from the day before in which he said he favors recognition of same-sex marriages while recognizing some churches may continue to object.
"We're just talking about civil marriages here," he emphasized again Tuesday.
Cooper said his views changed as he watched different institutions struggle with homosexual rights.
"A number of groups are trying to figure out what to do," he said. "The nation is working its way through this now."
He added, "My views have evolved over time."
Cooper has served 22 years in the U.S. House split between two stints, the most recent beginning in 2003.
Cooper said among the institutions he has watched were the U.S. military, which dropped the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and another even closer to home.
"My denomination changed its mind (on gay marriage)," he said of the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal House of Bishops, meeting in a national convention in July 2012, OK'd priests blessing same-sex couples but stipulated a blessing did not equate to approving marriage. The latter remained a matter for civil authorities, it said.
Cooper said he was also pleased to see Davidson County adopt a policy that prohibits private-sector firms wanting county business from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.
"The principle of non-discrimination is important," he said.
And if firms from states that recognize gay marriage want to relocate offices and employees to Tennessee, the congressman said, they may want assurances such marriages will be accepted in the Volunteer State.
"We need to be as welcoming in Tennessee as we can be," Cooper said.
Tennessee, however, adopted a state constitutional amendment in 2006 that says marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Congressional records show Cooper voted in 2006 for a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman as well.
When asked about the vote Tuesday, Cooper said he couldn't immediately recall it. Meanwhile, some other Tennessee members spoke out as well.
"I support the federal Defense of Marriage Act in which Congress recognized the traditional right of each state to determine its own laws governing marriage," Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement.
The 1996 act, the subject of a pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling, defined marriage as between a man and a woman and forbid recognition of gay marriages from one state to another.
"I agree that the Supreme Court should not intervene and shut out the democratic process on this issue," added Sen. Bob Corker, also Republican.
"Currently, states have the ability to make these decisions, and Tennessee has passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage being between one man and one woman," Corker said.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, made similar comments.
"Marriage is an institution defined as a union between one man and one woman," she said.
"But this is an issue that should be left up to the states to decide. The choices made by the people of Tennessee may be different than those of another state and I think we should respect the rights of each state to make their own decisions."
Blackburn also voted for the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 2006 and played a major role in drafting the 2012 National Republican Party platform that banned same-sex marriage.
Lastly, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, "believes marriage is between a man and a woman," spokesman Robert Jameson said.
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