U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. (FILE PHOTO)

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said Friday he no longer holds the same views he held when he voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage nearly 13 years ago.

Harkin described his own evolution on the issue during a taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” which airs this weekend.

“We all grow as we get older, and we learn things and we become more sensitive to people and people’s lives,” Harkin said. “And the more I’ve looked at that, I’ve grown to think differently about how people — how we should live. And I guess I’m at the point that, you know — I’m to that point of live and let live,” Harkin said.

The issue has grabbed headlines since the Iowa Supreme Court last month struck down Iowa’s law banning same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

Some Republicans have been pushing to amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage, but the Democratic-controlled Iowa Legislature declined to take it up this year.

Harkin said if a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is on the Iowa ballot, as an Iowa voter, he would vote against it.

However, he thinks the issue will fade before Iowa voters would get a chance to weigh in.

“There’s always going to be some who feel that they have to push this issue, and for whatever reason, they’re going to try to push it and try to divide people up, but they’re on the losing end. They’re on the losing end of history,” Harkin said.

Jeff Boeyink, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said at some point Harkin may be held accountable for his new position on same-sex marriage if he chooses to run for re-election.

“What he says today is not necessarily what he’s going to believe tomorrow,” Boeyink said.

Boeyink predicted that many Iowans will keep the issue front and center in 2010 and beyond.

Harkin rejected the idea that the issue will help the GOP in the 2010 election.

“I think (in) 2010, the elections will hinge on the economy, health-care reform, what we’re doing in energy and whether families are doing better … it’s not going to have one whit to do with gay marriage,” Harkin said.

Harkin noted that Iowa has been ahead of the country on many civil rights issues, including banning slavery and school desegregation.

“I’m sure those were all controversial issues at that time, but it seems to me Iowa has always been in the forefront of extending civil rights to people, always in the forefront of this.” Harkin said. “And this, again I think, is just another step in that march that we’ve had in Iowa.”