Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska declared her support for same-sex marriage, saying she believes in "promoting freedom" and "limiting the reach of government."
"When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values," Murkowski wrote in an op-ed published on Wednesday on her website.
"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 peoples' lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another."
The 56-year-old senator insisted, however, that she is also equally as committed to preserving religious freedoms and allowing churches to continue determining on their own how they define marriage.
Murkowski begins her op-ed with a story about two Alaskan women in a same-sex relationship who provided foster care for children, but could not be legally recognized as spouses.
"After their years of sleepless nights, after-school pickups and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room – and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner," the senator explained. "They do not get considered for household health care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide. This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence."
Murkowski, who assumed office in 2002, tied in the story with the upcoming Supreme Court decisions that are set to rule on the legality of two major same-sex marriage cases in America, namely Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Alaska senator argued that the federal government should not be "telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay."
The politician notes that as a Roman Catholic, she sees marriage "as a valued sacrament that exists exclusively between a man and a woman" but believes that other faith institutions should have the right to define marriage in their own way, and that the government should not be able to tell people who they have a right to marry.
Republican Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois also announced their support for same-sex marriage earlier this year.
John Boehner, the current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who is also a Republican and Roman Catholic, previously said that regardless of these developments, he remains committed to the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman.
"Rob is a great friend and a long-time ally," Boehner said of Sen. Portman. "I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my Church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change."
A Washington Post / ABC News poll conducted in June found that most Republicans are not in favor of changing the definition of marriage. The poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, found that 65 percent of Republican responders to the poll indicated that they are opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, while only 33 percent said they support the change.
The same poll found that 57 percent of all adults are in favor of gay marriage, while 40 percent oppose it.