The Science of Lisa Murkowski's Gay Marriage Evolution

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has announced her support for same-sex marriage. This used to be a more common thing, back when there were more moderate and Democratic senators who hadn't yet made the announcement. Or who hadn't yet "evolved," as politicians say these days. Thanks to Murkowski, we now have a better sense for how long that evolution takes. And she was right on schedule.

Murkowski's evolution didn't take very long. She first announced that she was undergoing a process of evolution on March 28, as reported by the Huffington Post. "The term 'evolving view' has been perhaps overused, but I think it is an appropriate term for me to use." That puts her evolution period at 83 days.

This is substantially faster than the first major politician to announce his so-called evolution on same-sex marriage, a gentleman named Barack Obama. As ABC News noted last year, the president first mentioned that his views were evolving in October 2010. Between then and his eventual announcement, in May 2012, 586 days elapsed — seven times longer than Murkowski.

Granted, as Murkowski notes, her announcement was spurred in part by the renewed interest in the topic as America waits for key Supreme Court rulings on the issue. But her quick turnaround is nonetheless remarkable. For one thing, Murkowski is a Republican — only the third Republican senator to change positions publicly. Unlike Rob Portman of Ohio, whose switch was predicated on learning that his son is gay, Murkowski's change was based in the philosophy of her state. From her statement:

Like the majority of Alaskans, I supported a constitutional amendment in 1998 defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift.  Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state – and they deserve a hands-off approach from our federal policies.

There's that word, evolution. Murkowski is one of three senators to use it when announcing their change of heart. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana announced that she'd evolved in March, but, since her state hasn't, she wouldn't support federal legalization. Tim Johnson of South Dakota announced his completed evolution in April. When each of them began the evolution is hard to determine; both have had broadly gay-friendly legislative agendas in the past.

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But perhaps the appropriate metric is from the announcement of an in-process evolution to support for the issue. Perhaps it's literal, as in, I have now evolved sufficiently as a human such that I support this issue. In that case, the evolution time period of each senator is as follows:

Who Days between birth and completed evolution
President Barack Obama 18,541
Sen. Tim Johnson 24,208
Sen. Mary Landrieu 20,945
Sen. Lisa Murkowski 20,482


In other words, the evolution to supporting same-sex marriage takes, on average, about 21,000 days from birth, or about 57-and-a-half years. Which means that Landrieu and Murkowski were right on schedule — and that Republican Senator Richard Burr should be announcing his support at any minute.

Except, of course, that Burr represents North Carolina. Below is our updated map of states in which senators have announced their support for same-sex marriage. You'll notice that the area with the least amount of support is the Bible Belt, of which Burr's state sits right on the edge. Some states just don't believe in evolution.

Photo: Murkowski and friend. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.