CHICAGO -- GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois said Tuesday he supports gay marriage, becoming the second sitting Republican senator to make such an announcement in recent weeks.
Kirk, who previously opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, said in a post on his blog that "same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage."
"Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most," said Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January 2012. "Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back - government has no place in the middle."
Kirk went through months of rehabilitation before returning to work in Washington this January. He said in his blog post that when he went back to the Senate he promised himself he would return "with an open mind and greater respect for others."
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.
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.