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Mar 17 2013

Portman Changes Position on Marriage Equality

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who was one of the leading candidates to be Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, has reversed his position on same-sex marriage after his son came out of the closet. That personal connection convinced him of the need to treat people equally:

Sen. Rob Portman has renounced his opposition to gay marriage, telling reporters from Ohio newspapers yesterday that he changed his position after his son Will told him and his wife, Jane, that he is gay…

In an interview in his Senate office, Portman acknowledged that his support for same-sex marriage is a “change in my position that I have had in Congress and also here in the Senate the last couple of years.” But he said that change “came about through a process” after Will, now a junior at Yale University, told his parents in February 2011 that he is gay.

“It allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective and that’s as a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have,” Portman said.

Portman said he and Jane were both surprised to learn that their son is gay, but he said they were “very supportive of him,” adding that they wanted Will to “know we were 100 percent supportive and we love him. He’s an amazing young man.”

“If anything, I’m even more proud of the way he has handled the whole situation.”

So many thoughts on this. While it’s great that he’s changed his position, it would be even better if he thought that equality was the right thing even if it only applies to other people’s children. On the other hand, this is exactly how opinions change. It’s easy to oppose equality in the abstract, but much tougher when you actually know and care about someone who is directly affected by it. That’s exactly why public opinion has shifted so rapidly on this issue. And it’s why coming out of the closet is still such an important act for gay people, if they’re in a position where they can safely do so. It does change things. It does have an impact.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    gshelley

    I saw Newt Gingrich’s response

    Gingrich acknowledged on CNN’s “Starting Point” that when an immediate family member reveals that he or she is gay, there are typically three responses.

    “You can say I believe my principles so much, I’m kicking you out. You can say I still believe in my principles, but I love you. Or you can say, gee, I love you so much I am changing my principles,” Gingrich said. “Rob picked the third path. That’s his prerogative.”

    He seems to miss the fourth, you can say “hmm, my bigotry is affecting real people. Perhaps I should consider if my position has any rational basis and think about how much harm I am doing by holding onto it”

  2. 2
    Larry

    I saw a great comment about this conversion: Now if we could get him to realize his daughter is a woman, we’d be all set.

  3. 3
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    While it’s great that [Sen. Rob Portman's] changed his position, it would be even better if he thought that equality was the right thing even if it only applies to other people’s children.

    I was very happy to see the CNN interviewer who had the exclusive interview on this news ask him that. She actually referred to one of Portman’s constituents’ anger he justified it for his son but not her family. Sen. Portman had no reasonable response. I was also intrigued by his nervous state during this interview; he seemed very fearful.

    I haven’t seen the entire interview, just the part Anderson Cooper featured on AC360 the same day this interview was published. I wonder if the equal protection clause was even raised as an issue as it always should be in such discussions. I doubt it; I don’t recall any policy makers defending their anti-gay stance in light of that clause. Now that’s in spite of that clause being the key premise to Ted Olson’s argument in front of the SCOTUS regarding CA Prop 8.

    I was very bemused to see the demonstrably irreligious John McCain on that same AC360 show as the follow-up interview. He claimed his anti-gay rights stays remains unchanged due to this personal religious beliefs. As if that’s a justifiable defense for a man who swore to defend the Constitution rather than seek to violate it for religious reasons. Mr. Cooper let it go like all other journalists, by changing the topic to one far more comfortable for their guest. In this case that would be Sen. McCain’s advocacy of a more militaristic engaged response to the atrocities occurring in Syria.

  4. 4
    fifthdentist

    ‘Cause when you think of someone to interview on opral issues, the first name that pops up should be Newt Gingrich.
    Calista had best make sure her hubby’s love for country is not at a fever pitch these days, else she may end up as ex-Mrs.-Newt number three.

  5. 5
    fifthdentist

    Moral issues, not orpal issues. Me type pretty some day.

  6. 6
    cottonnero

    Ah, good. I was thinking ‘opral’ was the adjective form of Oprah, and that you were saying that it was the kind of thing that Oprah might talk about on her show if she were to have a politician on it.

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    The part that’s missing is the part where he says, “I was wrong all along and I’m sorry.”

  8. 8
    Larry

    Marcus @7

    He’s still a republican

  9. 9
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    He seems to miss the fourth, you can say “hmm, my bigotry is affecting real people. Perhaps I should consider if my position has any rational basis and think about how much harm I am doing by holding onto it”

    Sure, gingrich missed that possibility, but remember: So did Portman. He did it b/c he’s

    a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have

    So, he’s into legal nepotism, he’s not into creating justice that prevents unnecessary and unjust harm to any of the people he’s been elected to represent.

    …or if he IS into creating that justice, he sees making people 2nd class citizens either necessary and/or just,
    ***and STILL*** his desire for legal nepotism causes him to, when exercising his most important duty to his constituents, place his family ahead of necessity and justice.

    Although, I suppose that there’s a final option: his commitment to creating justice that prevents unnecessary and unjust harm really *does* motivate him, but he believes it is more politically acceptable in his party/ state/ situation to be a legal nepotist than it is to craft legislation to promote justice and prevent harm.

    So, either he’s a legal nepotist, and that says something horrible about him – something even worse if he believes that it is necessary and/or just to deny marriage to same-legal-gender couples.

    OR he’s committed to justice but feels compelled to say he’s for marriage equality for reasons other than preventing harm and promoting justice. That says that he is, to some degree, a coward, and it further says something truly horrific about the people around him. The lesser the degree of cowardice on his part, the greater the monstrous implications for his political associates.

    Look, I’m glad for his decision. But he’s been told before by family members of queer people that these laws are having exactly these effects, and he didn’t care. The privilege involved in thinking one family member is more important than [best guess at the number who would actually want to marry someone of the same legal gender in Ohio] 2-4% of your state, well, it’s just ridiculously large, and the outlook that entails is one of a truly aristocratic nature.

    This is a man that either needs to leave the party so he can tell his truth, or he needs to leave his position because he can’t be trusted, or he needs to have a serious heart to heart with himself about why he does care about one person but not about tens of thousands when he has sought, fought hard for, and pledged himself to a job that requires him to represent those tens of thousands.

  10. 10
    democommie

    @7:

    Seconding Larry, Marcus Ranum, when you hear the words, “wrong”, “were to blame”, “wrong side of history”, “knuckle dragging, unreasoning hatred of teh GAY” from the GOP they will all have “liberal(s)” at the beginning of the sentence.

  11. 11
    kantalope

    Larry brings up a good point –

    Portman: and then I realized that the reason I hated gay people was because I was a Republican. And that got me wondering, is there any other stupid crap that I believe because I’m a Republican. My brain started to hurt – so I thought about how much I hate Obama, and felt much better.

  12. 12
    Gretchen

    I saw a great comment about this conversion: Now if we could get him to realize his daughter is a woman, we’d be all set.

    Good line, Larry. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately– how simply being confronted with the reality that people they’ve known and loved and been attached to all along are gay seems to be enough to shake people out of homophobia, but the entirely of mankind has lived alongside the entirety of womankind for the duration of our existence as humans, and yet this fact hasn’t served to entirely convince the former of the latter’s equal value as people.

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    Gretchen writes:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately– how simply being confronted with the reality that people they’ve known and loved and been attached to all along are gay seems to be enough to shake people out of homophobia, but the entirely of mankind has lived alongside the entirety of womankind for the duration of our existence as humans, and yet this fact hasn’t served to entirely convince the former of the latter’s equal value as people.

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about discrimination against females the last couple of years, but from a narrower perspective. And that’s specific to the discrimination we encounter from many (most?) conservative Christian denominations towards females in light of the enormously quick progress gays have achieved the past ten years. Why do so many millions of U.S. females enable, accept, and even promote such discrimination and misogyny? Why not quit these churches?

    I don’t know why. I do suspect one factor is the mental abuse those raised in such environments suffer from by their parents and church authorities. Abuse that conditions them to avoid thinking about the ramifications of such discrimination against them, their daughters, and other females, in an environment where there’s offsetting communal benefits. Still, those benefits do not justify the abuse these churches heap on females.

  14. 14
    tbp1

    Of course, as always, a Republican can’t see what the right thing to do is until they, or a family member, are personally affected by a given issue, and then they just can’t extrapolate outward to other issues. We see the same thing with the Cheney family discovery of gay rights, with Sarah Palin’s advocacy for special needs children, etc. etc.

  15. 15
    Eristae

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about discrimination against females the last couple of years, but from a narrower perspective. And that’s specific to the discrimination we encounter from many (most?) conservative Christian denominations towards females in light of the enormously quick progress gays have achieved the past ten years. Why do so many millions of U.S. females enable, accept, and even promote such discrimination and misogyny? Why not quit these churches?

    I don’t know why. I do suspect one factor is the mental abuse those raised in such environments suffer from by their parents and church authorities. Abuse that conditions them to avoid thinking about the ramifications of such discrimination against them, their daughters, and other females, in an environment where there’s offsetting communal benefits. Still, those benefits do not justify the abuse these churches heap on females.

    Oh! Oh! I actually know at least part of the answer to this.

    Conforming to the patriarchy grants women certain perks, powers, and advantages. Sure, they aren’t perks, powers, and advantages equal to those granted to men, but they are more than what are granted to “bad” women. These pluses range from actual advantages (see Debi Pearl’s ability to effect change in countless households) to the negation of punishments (you do anything to a prostitute and there will be less of a response than if she was a “good girl/woman”). Women in religious communities have experienced these bonuses and have often spent a good deal of time investing their time and energy in accruing these advantages. Parental support, spousal support, community support, church support, power to influence the community and the church, housing, ability to meet basic needs, all can hinge on a woman conforming to the patriarchy. If the women leaves or objects, they lose all this.

    If one wants to look at an example from our own end of the pool, we need only look at the shit that women like Jen McCreight, Stephanie Zven, Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, and Amy Roth have been subject to when they engaged in activities that challenged the patriarchy. People freaked the fuck out, but the women who assisted in the degradation and harassment were given massive accolades. Some women were so traumatized by the experience that they dropped out altogether, while other women who hadn’t inadvertently stepped into the crossfire were educated on what they would be subject to if they stepped out of line. And all of this is from a community that is spread out and disorganized enough that it cannot possibly offer the perks of organized religion.

    Opposing the patriarchy has real upfront costs without corresponding immediate benefits. The benefits, if they come at all, will come after years of abuse that could be avoided by submitting to the patriarchy.

    The fact that it is possible for women to gain actual advantages and avoid actual disadvantages by working within the system means that women have opposed their own advancement in a way that I don’t think any other group has. The cost is higher and the payoff is less certain.

    This is especially the case for upper-middle class, able bodied, white women who can use their other privileges to their advantage, which has resulted in a real race/class/etc issue for feminism. It’s why white suffragettes opposed the right of all blacks (including black women) to vote. It reminds me of a quote of a black woman (I’ve forgotten her name, shoot) who was talking about the fact that no one treated her like a lady, not ever, because her blackness overrode her womanness. It’s also reflected in the fact that feminism (especially traditional feminism) tends to deal with upper middle class white women. For example, the whole “Women should be allowed to work!” assertions, while valuable and true, only apply to a subset of the population because only that subset ever had the ability for a woman to not work. Poor black women, for example, didn’t have the option of not working if they wanted food and shelter. And yet people are determined to act as if women not working is some kind of default position even though most women throughout history had to work.

    And I’ve rambled off, so I guess I’ll just reiterate that working within the patriarchy grants advantages and trying to leave it grants severe disadvantages. With the cost to benefit ratio being so skewed from the cost to benefit ratio for other minorities, women react differently than other minorities.

  16. 16
    Michael Heath

    tbp1 writes:

    Of course, as always, a Republican can’t see what the right thing to do is until they, or a family member, are personally affected by a given issue, and then they just can’t extrapolate outward to other issues. We see the same thing with the Cheney family discovery of gay rights, with Sarah Palin’s advocacy for special needs children, etc. etc.

    I’ve been unable to find a full transcript of the interview or a video that appears to be the full interview. I did find this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6v4WrvG7xk . The motivation tbp1 describes above is the exact motivation Sen. Portman asserts.

    Even worse, Sen. Portman took two years to come to terms with his policy switch in a way that allowed him to avoid even considering the systemic defect that caused him to previously be on the wrong side. During that period he also sought the advice of religious leaders, though no constitutional experts, to reconcile his new position without having to adapt his political philosophy.

    I’m glad he’s a proponent, but it’s hard to respect such a massive failure of integrity that goes unrecognized while he pats himself on the back for his ability to not learn from his previous failure of character.

  17. 17
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    My opinion on this kind of change of heart is similar to Crip Dyke’s, with a bit of a twist. A common, and I think accurate, meme is that reality has a liberal bent. As far as I can tell, conservatives are much more likely to take a position based on an emotional reaction and think that this constitutes a logical reason to do something: gay male sex is squicky, so it’s wrong. Portman may have long ago decided that gays should have been able to marry long ago, but he wants to keep getting elected, so he stays in the DOMA camp. Now that his son has come out, he can tell his constituents that he’s changing his position not for a calm, logical reason, but for an emotional one.

    That might go over better among his constituents, or at least not make them vote against them for that reason.

  18. 18
    cry4turtles

    Watching some republician tools on Meet the Press this morn. really got my ire. Some congressman from OK said he felt it would be ok that his state would not allow gay marriage, but it was also ok that gays in MA could marry, effectively communicating that he was perfectly alright that OK gays have LESS rights than MA gays. Then some hispanic repub woman, when pressured by David Gregory said she felt gay marriage is a PERSONAL CHOICE. I couldn’t help but think of a gay couple who personally choose to marry, go to the courthouse only to find their personal choice has already been made for them in the form of a big fat NO! What a bunch of fucktards.

  19. 19
    chrismorrow

    I admit I’d never heard of this particular senator, so I didn’t know for certain what their view had changed from and to, but I could be 99% sure. And that in itself is a hopeful thing.

    Has a single politician ever gone from supporting it to opposing it? The closest I’ve seen is some article I can’t find any more, where the writer says that he’d gone from figuring that same-sex marriage couldn’t do anything worse than no-fault divorce had (so it may as well be legal), but changed his mind because, well, no-fault divorce was really Bad For The Kids and by extension we can safely assume that any deviation from the nuclear family would be Bad For The Kids.

    All right, another example of sorts is Barack Obama, who quietly supported gay marriage before he started running for President, then mysteriously decided that he was “personally” against it (a statement of his that I “personally” think is phony, or hope), before famously re-affirming his earlier position.

    But in general, can NOW and others imagine any scenario, short of mass lightning strikes that solely target pro-equality churches, that would cause a trend of people going from supporting it to opposing it? The same article I mentioned earlier argued that references to the young, hip Republicans who have no problem with gay people are misguided references, because this country’s older people are always more conservative than the younger ones, ergo people must tend to change their views as they age and the country thus fails to become more liberal over time. But I think that’s false; evidence suggests that people’s views remain the same as they get older, and only “become more conservative” by comparison to the newer, more liberal views of the next generation. Anyway, that’s all academic; this country might be in a stasis-of-sorts on some issues, and even conservative-trending on others, but not on all of them. A much mroe coherent argument has to be made for why the marriage opponents haven’t (in the big picture) lost the war. Not that it’s pointless to keep fighting, of course — justice (and marriages) delayed is justice denied.

    cry4turtles:

    Then some hispanic repub woman, when pressured by David Gregory said she felt gay marriage is a PERSONAL CHOICE.

    What could that even mean? Was she under the impression that some people think it should be mandatory?

  20. 20
    dingojack

    Without going fully Godwin, isn’t this merely a case of bigots declaring “wer Jude ist, bestimme ich“? *
    Dingo
    ——–
    * ‘I decide who is a Jew’. [See Karl Lueger and Erhard Milch].

  21. 21
    dingojack

    Eristae – you stated that: “[White privilege was] …why white suffragettes opposed the right of all blacks (including black women) to vote.”
    Did they? All of them, some of them, a percentage? Where? What other factors might have been in play? &etc. Have you any citations in support of that statement?*
    Dingo
    ——–
    * it’s not necessarily that it’s untrue, it’s more that I find that assertion surprising (and perhaps counter intuitive).

  22. 22
    lofgren

    There was a wide range of opinion about race in the sufragette movement, but at least some of them were not above making the argument that it is absurd that a white woman can’t vote when even a black man can.

  23. 23
    mildlymagnificent

    it’s more that I find that assertion surprising (and perhaps counter intuitive

    It wasn’t just black people. One of the arguments by several influential suffragettes – remembering always that there were property qualifications for most voter registrations of the time – was that the democracy as a whole would suffer if educated, respectable (white) women couldn’t vote but IrishJewishCatholicdirtysmellyilliterate immigrant men did.

  24. 24
    regexp

    I find it amusing and a bit sad that so many here decide to bash the guy because he choose to change his position due to personal experience. Because Democrats never take a position purely on emotional grounds. Absolutely never. Does. Not. Happen.

    Oh wait … it happens all the time. The word many of you are looking for when you look in the mirror is hypocrite.

    This is a good thing. And considering this guy is as red as they come – it has even more impact.

  25. 25
    democommie

    “Oh wait … it happens all the time. The word many of you are looking for when you look in the mirror is hypocrite.”

    Dear Mr. Concerntroll:

    You have a citation to go along with that assertion?

    “This is a good thing. And considering this guy is as red as they come – it has even more impact.”

    No wonder he waited until AFTER THE FUCKING ELECTION to bring it up.

  26. 26
    Ichthyic

    I find it amusing and a bit sad that so many here decide to bash the guy because he choose to change his position due to personal experience.

    uh, strawman, since nobody bashed him for that. look again. what everyone is bashing him for is NOT changing his mind when presented with decades of examples just like his own sons.

    no, he waited until it was personal.

    sorry, but if an auto mechanic puts water in my gas tank for decades, because he somehow thinks it’s a good thing to do, but only changes his mind when he has water put in his own gas tank, that’s a fucking failure on his part.

    the only WORSE failure is NOT changing his mind after his car stops working.

  27. 27
    Ichthyic

    No wonder he waited until AFTER THE FUCKING ELECTION to bring it up.

    oh and that too.

  28. 28
    fwtbc

    I think Melissa McEwan at Shakesville summed it up pretty nicely.

    That said, Senator Portman, you are a real asshole of a public servant. It is colossally contemptible that you didn’t care about anyone else’s sons’ (or daughters’ or parents’ or friends’ or colleagues’ or perfect fucking strangers’) right to “get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage,” and only finding out you had to look your own kid in the face and tell him sorry, son, fuck you, it’s politically expedient for me to deny your basic humanity, gave you reason enough to support what is a decent and just position, totally in line with the ostensibly conservative principle of keeping the government’s nose the fuck out of people’s pants.

    How utterly loathsome to be a person who only supports policies that personally benefit their own families. I’m looking at you, ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

    It reminds me a little bit of Christopher Hitchens and the whole waterboarding thing. Some people commend him for going through it himself so he knew what he was talking about, but those actions implicitly say “All those other people saying it’s torture, I don’t really think their opinion counts for shit, but mine does.”

  29. 29
    dingojack

    Wouldn’t changing his mind only when it happened to him show a distinct lack of foresight, commonsense, consideration, empathy, seriousness, depth of thought and so on.
    Kinda of a FAIL for a person elected by his constituents to represent their interests, I would say.
    Dingo

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