GOP Sen. Portman’s Pro Gay Marriage Stance Cheers Activists
On Friday, Republican Sen. Rob Portman made national headlines when he announced that he changed his views on same-sex marriage.
In an op-ed piece for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the junior United States senator from Ohio discussed his 21-year-old son, Will, coming out to him two years ago. Since then, Portman has apparently went through an internal dialogue on same-sex marriage, which he had formerly strongly opposed.
He co-sponsored the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids national recognition of marriages allowed by states. He also voted for a measure that prevented same-sex from joint adoptions of children in the District of Columbia,, over which the federal government has retained local power.
Portman’s conversion is especially notable because he is considered one of his party’s congressional stars. He made Mitt Romney’s short list for running mates. Many believe that the GOP presidential nominee made his final choice for vice president on the ticket between Portman and Wis. Rep. Paul Ryan. Both men are considered among the top policy wonks on the Hill respecting the federal budget.
Portman’s "road to Damascus" conversion on marriage makes him perhaps the highest-profile current Republican elected official to come out publicly against his party’s position. The importance of Portman’s announcement was highlighted by a slew of statements by LGBT organizations lauding the conservative for changing his views.
"We greatly appreciate Sen. Portman’s sharing his journey on the freedom to marry with his constituents and with the American people," Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director Marc Solomon said. "It’s a beautifully human experience for a father to listen with an open heart to his son, to reflect on his own beliefs, and conclude that he wants for his son the same opportunity for happiness that comes with being able to marry that he and his wife have had. We hope that Senator Portman’s journey is an example that other Americans will look to as they reflect on their own position on the freedom to marry."
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin compared Portman to "countless dads across the country. Sen. Portman has made the basic and courageous choice to put parenting before politics," Griffin said. "When it comes to marriage equality, all Americans are on the same journey toward recognizing our common humanity."
The executive director of the Log Cabins, the leading national LGBT group within the GOP, Gregory T. Angelo, cited Portman as an emblematic of a sea change in the party. "If there was any doubt that the conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples has broken, Senator Portman’s support for the freedom to marry has erased it," Angelo said.
Portman is the only sitting GOP senator to have come out for marriage equality.
The Personal Is Political
For Angelo, Portman’s evolution shows that marriage equality has rapidly evolved from arguments over abstract principles to decisions based on personal relationships and experiences.
"Whether they’re the Junior Senator from Ohio or your next-door neighbor, all Americans have a gay friend, colleague or family member, and understand them to be as deserving as their straight counterparts of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are the promise of the United States," he said.
Portman’s fellow Buckeye, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, applauded Portman for having "joined the growing majority of Americans who support full civil rights for our gay and lesbian family, friends, and neighbors. Practicing family values is about loving all of God’s children. I look forward to working with him to ensure that all Americans have the ability to marry regardless of whom they love or where they live."
Ian James, the co-founder of FreedomOhio, thanked the senator for his marriage equality support
on the group’s Facebook page.
"The honorable U.S. Sen. Portman is the first Republican member of the United States Senate to endorse the freedom to marry, but we believe he will not be the last," he wrote. "We are moved by the love and support U.S. Sen. Portman and his wife are showing their son. We appreciate the fact that the Senator wants his son to be able to marry and form a family to find the same happiness and security as his parents."
Portman’s son also commented on his father’s announcement and tweeted, ’Especially proud of my dad today.’"
It’s still up in the air how much Portman’s change in position will reverberate in Ohio. Considered a bellwether state, Ohio was considered more or less reliably Republican in national elections but has been veering toward the Democrats of late.
A poll by the Cincinnati Enquirer, nearly half of Buckeye voters surveyed said they’re not more likely to support gay marriage after learning of Portman’s endorsement. Still, 41 percent of voters said they had changed their own minds and would now back same-sex marriage thanks to the senator’s statement. (The rest had no opinion on the issue.)
Religious Right Condemns Portman’s Stance
Those on the religious right did their best to tamp down the congratulatory mood.
"Regardless of a child’s choices, the love of a parent can and should be a guiding beacon in the lives of their sons and daughters," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote in a statement on the group’s website. "Unconditional love, however, does not mean unconditional support in choices that are both harmful to them and society as a whole. This is especially true when we approach public policy."
Perkins kept on using the phrase "unconditional love for our children" as an introduction to sentiments that, to some, would show anything but. A parent’s personal experience "should not override the historical and social science evidence which makes abundantly clear what is best for all children and for society - being raised by a married mother and father," Perkins wrote.
Bryan Fischer, the director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, compared a child coming out to his parents to one who robs a bank. "A father can still love a son who robs a bank without changing his mind about the morality of bank robbing," he tweeted.
Peter LaBarbera, the president of the rabidly anit-gay Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, is "very sad" over Portman’s announcement. The politician is now embracing "false love" over "tough love," said LaBarbera, who once tweeted that one of his own kids ever came out to him, he would tell them not "to practice homo’lity [sic]" and that "being gay is not ’who U are.’"