WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Kirk announced Tuesday he supports gay marriage, the result of a new appreciation for life and love he's gained as a survivor of a stroke that almost killed him.
It's another chapter in an evolving stroke-inspired journey for a man who opposed gay marriage when he started running for the Senate in 2009 -- worried about a challenge from the right in the 2010 GOP primary.
Kirk's announcement tells us a few things:
♦ Kirk didn't want to be bringing up the rear on this issue.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) also announced his support for same-sex marriage on Tuesday, with a post on Facebook.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recently told the touching story of wanting his gay son to be able to wed in declaring his gay marriage backing.
With Portman and Kirk the only Republican senators for gay marriage, that makes them stand out. Portman's politics are often to the right of Kirk. Supporting gay marriage early -- that is for a Republican -- helps Kirk burnish a moderate credential.
Sen. Dick Durbin is one of 48 Democratic and Independent senators who back gay marriage.
♦ Curiously, Kirk, the top Republican in the state, did not use the occasion to explicitly call on the Illinois House to pass a pending gay marriage bill the state Senate already approved.
President Barack Obama wrestled with gay marriage for years. It was only last May that Obama said: "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."
However once Obama was in -- well, he was in. Last December, as state lawmakers in Springfield started to take up gay marriage legislation, Obama (a former state senator) sent a statement that if he were still in the Illinois Legislature, "he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally."
Obama, Durbin and seven House Democrats -- all from the Chicago area -- have urged the Illinois House to pass the now stalled state bill.
♦ Kirk is not anticipating a 2016 GOP primary challenge where gay marriage support would be an issue. Anyway, that's years away.
♦ Kirk's stroke has liberated him. Kirk vaulted into the news with a heartfelt, 68-word statement: "Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back -- government has no place in the middle."
A Kirk staffer told a gay marriage advocate: "The journey story is clear; he is unshackled since he came back from his stroke."
♦ Kirk and his staff, I'm told, did hear from a lot of people urging him to speak up on the gay marriage issue sooner than later.
Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project told me, "We've met with his staff and talked to him."
River Forest residents Lee and David Neubecker are the parents of Braiden, 10. On March 1, David Neubecker and Braiden met with Kirk legislative staffer Gretchan Blum in Washington.
Neubecker said his daughter made the case why "her two dads should be allowed to get married."
Kirk's past opposition to gay marriage seems based more on politics than convictions, given what he told the Illinois Radio Network on Tuesday.
"Most of us have gay acquaintances at work or at church and we know them and the thought of legally discriminating against our own friends and co-workers is an anathema to me," Kirk said in the interview.
Kirk wrote a column that ran in the Washington Post on Feb. 1 about how his stroke -- which kept him out of the Senate almost a year -- gave him a new outlook on life. Wrote Kirk: "I want my life to count for something more than the honors I once craved. I believe it will. My faith is stronger. My humility is deeper. I know I depend on family and friends more than I ever realized. I know, too, that the things that divide us in politics are infinitesimal compared with the dignity of our common humanity."
Kirk's journey continues.