10 journey stories: How these political leaders grew to understand why marriage matters

(UPDATED 4/5 with former Sen. Olympia Snowe's support) In the past several years, a broad and diverse array of Americans have taken the time to consider why the freedom to marry matters for same-sex couples. Yesterday, a new poll tracked record support for marriage - 58% of Americans, the latest evidence in our country's rapidly evolving support for the love and commitment of all couples. As the country has shifted, so too have a wide range of public figures and politicians. Over the years, many elected officials have announced their support for marriage and taken the time to explain how their views have evolved.

These political leaders - like millions of Americans from across the United States - have come to understand the importance of the freedom to marry because they have taken the time to reflect on why marriage matters and come to the conclusion that extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples strengthens families and improves communities. It is important to embrace and celebrate these journeys, which often allow even more Americans to challenge their own perspectives and begin to complete their own journeys. Here are ten quotes from prominent political leaders who now support marriage for all couples and their families:

President Barack Obama

It's been nearly a year since President Barack Obama sat down with ABC News' Robin Roberts to voice his personal support for the freedom to marry. In the interview heard round the world, President Obama said his support for marriage came after years of getting to know gay and lesbian couples and better understanding why marriage matters. Previously, he had supported repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, but the May 9, 2012 interview marked a new shift in his position. Since then, President Obama has spoken out consistently in favor of the freedom to marry, weighing in on four key marriage ballot measures in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington this fall, expressing similar support for legislative marriage bills in Rhode Island and his home state of Illinois, and submitting amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA and Proposition 8. And in his inaugural address in January, he called for the freedom to marry for all couples, saying, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."  

President Bill Clinton

In 1996, Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, signed DOMA into law. Since then, he has continually expressed his regret for the legislation, and this month, he wrote a powerful editorial in The Washington Post explaining that it's time to end DOMA once and for all. He wrote, "On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution."  

Vice President Joe Biden

On May 7, 2012, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest ranking government official to publicly voice his support for marriage for same-sex couples. "Look, I just think that the good news is that more and more Americans are coming to understand that this is about a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out is what all marriages at their root are about - whether they're marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals. That's what I believe. ... I am absolutely comfortable with men marrying men, women marrying women, heterosexuals marrying, are entitled to the same exact rights - all the civil rights, all the civil liberties, and quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that." Previously, Vice President Biden opposed marriage for same-sex couples, and in 1996, he cast a vote in favor of DOMA. His stance from May 2012, which he has proudly stood by for the past year, indicates that since 1996, he has taken the time to reflect on the fact that same-sex couples wish to marry for similar reasons as different-sex couples: They love each other and want to commit their lives to each other.  

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

Last week, Sen. Portman made history by becoming the first sitting Republican Senator to announce his public support for the freedom to marry. Although he voted for DOMA in 1996, he said that over the past two years, his views have expanded and provoked a change of heart. "I've thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I've changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples," he wrote in an editorial last week. He credits his son Will, who came out two years ago, with his primary reason for publicly supporting marriage. He said: "Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years."

Senator Olympia Snowe(R-ME)

On April 5, 2013, former Senator Snowe, who served three terms to represent the state of Maine, announced that she supports the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Although she voted in favor of DOMA in 1996, she said that she is now opposed to DOMA and that she supported Question 1 in Maine, which proactively extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in Maine. Read more about her evolution HERE.

Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA)

While serving in the U.S. Congress from 1995-2003, Rep. Bob Barr opposed marriage for same-sex couples and was the chief author of DOMA. In 2009, however, Barr published an editorial in The Los Angeles Times explaining that there is "no defending the Defense of Marriage Act." He wrote: "I've wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned. In testifying before Congress against a federal marriage amendment, and more recently while making my case to skeptical Libertarians as to why I was worthy of their support as their party's presidential nominee, I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law." 

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (R)

In September 2007, San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders delivered one of the most compassionate speeches ever on how he has grown to understand why it is necessary for him to support the freedom to marry. At a press conference, he announced that he would be signing a resolution that supported extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. He reflected on his shift in perspective, saying, "The arrival of the resolution - to sign or veto - in my office late last night forced me to reflect and search my soul for the right thing to do. I have decided to lead with my heart, which is probably obvious at the moment - to do what I think is right, and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice. The right thing for me to do is sign this resolution." After his moving speech, Mayor Sanders spent the rest of his tenure as mayor lending his voice to advocating for greater GOP support for the freedom to marry. He was a chairperson for Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a coalition of over 300 mayors across the country who support marriage for same-sex couples. He also recorded a TV ad that aired during the Republican National Convention. 

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)

This month, Rep. Nita Lowey took an opportunity during a House committee meeting to address the audience - including Supreme Court Justices Kennedy and Breyer - about why marriage matters. Although she voted for DOMA in 1996, she reflected on her regret for the vote and explained that her views have changed. She said: "This month, you will hear cases that are of the utmost importance to many American families - that is, whether gay Americans have the same constitutional rights to marry as straight couples, and whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of federal recognition and benefits. In the time that has passed since 1996, my views, along with President Clinton and Obama's, many of my colleagues - the country's, the faiths and makeups of our families have all changed - for what I think is for the better."

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

In May 2012, Sen. Jack Reed, who voted for DOMA in 1996, announced his own personal journey on the freedom to marry by signing onto the Respect for Marriage Act in order to repeal DOMA. He said, "I've been thinking and deliberating about this for many, many months. I believe it's appropriate to support same-sex marriage and as a result to support the Respect for Marriage Act."

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D)

In December 2012, Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, signed onto Mayors for the Freedom to Marry to voice his support for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Upon joining the coalition, he said: "It is well known that I have gone through a good bit of reflection on this issue, but listening to the stories of so many people that I know and care about has strengthened my belief that marriage is a fundamental right for everyone. Loving couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the right to marry whomever they want."