(USA Today) - Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has endorsed same-sex marriage, becoming the third Republican senator to do so.
In a statement posted Wednesday on her website, Murkowski said supporting same-sex marriage is consistent with her values as a "lifelong Republican" who believes in "promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government."
"I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values: it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of people's lives -- while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another," she said.
Murkowski joins Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois to voice support for the right of same-sex couples to marry. The highly charged issue is taking on new importance as the Supreme Court considers two cases dealing with gay marriage.
The justices, who are trying to complete work this month before their summer break, could rule as early as Thursday on California's gay marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, praised Murkowski, who had said earlier this year that her views on gay marriage were "evolving."
"Senator Murkowski's courageous and principled announcement today sends a clear message that marriage equality must come to all 50 state in this country," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "As the Supreme Court prepares to rule in two landmark marriage cases this month, a growing bipartisan coalition is standing up for the right of all couples to marry -- and there is no turning back that tide."
Several senators, who were previously opposed or on the fence, issued statements supporting gay marriage in March as the court heard arguments in the two marriage lawsuits.
In her statement, Murkowski said she was influenced in part by an Alaskan family headed by two lesbians who have adopted four siblings to give them a home together. "This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence," she wrote.
Murkowski, who is Catholic, said she believes religious institutions should have the right to define marriage on their own terms. But she is clear about the government's role.
"Churches must be allowed to define marriage and conduct ceremonies according to their rules," she said, "but the government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony."