Republican Sen. Mark Kirk supports gay marriage - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk supports gay marriage

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Republican Senator Mark Kirk made a surprising announcement on his blog Tuesday: He  now supports gay marriage. It's the highest-profile switch by an Illinois politician since President Obama had a similar change of heart.

The senator suffered a massive stroke in January of 2012, and went through months of rehabilitation. He was welcomed back to work one year later, climbing the U.S. Capitol steps flanked by applauding colleagues.

AUDIO: Sen. Kirk on supporting marriage equality

Kirk says that when he returned to work, he did so with an open mind and with a greater respect for others.

"Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage," Kirk said. "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."

Kirk told the Illinois Radio Network his friend's path breaking gay marriage ended quickly in one of the first gay divorces.  He said two other things changed his outlook: the stroke last year that left him partially disabled and a recent movie about Abraham Lincoln ending slavery.

"I must say I've been pretty influenced by the latest Spielberg movie about Abraham Lincoln," Kirk said. "You just think about, as a Republican leader, my job is to make sure that each generation is more free."

Some of Kirk's fellow Republicans rejected the comparison to Lincoln and accused Kirk of betraying the party's platform and principles.

"The top leadership in the Republican Party continues to divorce itself from the grassroots support that elects at least a few some of them in Springfield," says Kane County Board Chairman, Chris Lauzen. "I think that it weakens our party even further."

Kirk is Illinois' ranking Republican lawmaker. His announcement comes less than three weeks after Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to say he supported gay marriage and one week after the U.S. Supreme Court held two days of oral arguments on the subject.

It also comes as the Illinois Legislature is giving final consideration to a measure that would make Illinois the 10th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

"People are changing their minds. They're thinking this through. They're talking to their neighbors," says North Lakefront Democratic Representative Greg Harris. "They're talking to their families. And they're saying, "You know, look. We need to stand up for what's right."

The Illinois Senate voted in February to lift a state ban on same-sex marriage. The legislation also was approved by a House committee, but has yet to be called for a floor vote. Speaker of the House Michael Madigan said recently he believes supporters are a dozen votes short of what they need for the bill to pass.

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has said he would sign the measure.

Kirk's announcement could give political cover to Republicans in the Illinois House who are considering a yes vote but are fearful of a backlash -- or a primary challenge -- from social conservatives.

The news was greeted with enthusiasm by supporters.

"We continue to see the momentum behind marriage equality grow, especially among Republicans." said Rick Garcia, Director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project and Policy Director for The Civil Rights Agenda, Illinois' largest gay rights advocacy organization. "The momentum is stunning and we welcome it."

Kirk served five terms in Congress representing Chicago's northern suburbs before he won the 2010 race for President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

He previously voted to end the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and is a lead co-sponsor of a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He also supported Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady after Brady announced his support for same-sex marriage earlier this year, drawing the ire of his party's social conservative wing. When some members of the state central committee attempted to oust Brady, Kirk said Brady had his full support.

Kirk is only the second sitting GOP senator to support same-sex marriage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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