Political Animal


March 15, 2013 9:20 AM Portman On Gay Marriage: Will Crumbling Walls Tumble?

By Ed Kilgore

It took me a while this morning to realize that Sen. Rob Portman’s op-ed announcing he had changed his mind and now supported same-sex marriage (mainly as a result of learning his own son is gay) was being considered a big shocker. Sure, as Dave Weigel pointed out, most of the Republicans who have thrown in the towel (with relief or chagrin) on this topic are not elected officials, much less well-established conservative senators near the top of Mitt Romney’s 2012 running-mate list.

But it’s been obvious for a good while which way the wind was blowing: in public opinion polls and particularly in generational public opinion findings. Anyone paying the least bit of attention understands that for social conservatives, this is just a lost cause, particularly after President Obama withdrew bipartisan cover for marriage equality opponents. Besides, when Dick Cheney’s announced his own support for same-sex marriage in 2009, he was neither struck by lightning nor kicked out of the conservative movement. So it was just a matter of time until others followed.

But Portman’s move could trigger a wave of conversions in the Republican ranks, and that in turn could break down legal resistance to same-sex marriage. Already we’ve seen most conservatives abandon the “traditional marriage” cause as a backlash generator and vote mobilizer. Now we’ll see if votes change in state legislatures, and the walls come tumbling down.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • max on March 15, 2013 9:32 AM:

    was being considered a big shocker.

    I'm thinkin' this would be taken to imply that Portman won't run for prez again or anything. (And possibly, 'How could he have considered a run if his son was gay...')

    He's going to be 'too liberal' now, no matter what, even if they never mention the gay marriage thing.

    ['So: 'Rob Portman announces the end of his political career'.']

  • jim filyaw on March 15, 2013 9:35 AM:

    will the walls crumble? nah. yesterday, rubio (aka 'savior of the g.o.p.) assured the cpac mob that being opposed to gay marriage doesn't make one a bigot.

  • David W. on March 15, 2013 9:48 AM:

    Being opposed to gay marriage doesn't make one a bigot, but that's the way to bet.

  • BillFromPA on March 15, 2013 9:54 AM:

    I had an idea, never acted on, to set up a web site called 'Liberal For a Day', on which I would post changes of heart by notable conservatives based on personal interest. Repugs are opposed to all sorts of 'bleeding heart' issues favored by Libs until one of their own is impacted, then they're suddenly 'Liberal', on just one issue and only as long as they or a loved one is affected. This is a perfect example, don't expect repugs to stampede to this unless there's a personal connection.

  • Ronnie Pudding on March 15, 2013 9:55 AM:

    I think this post grossly over-estimates Portman's stature.

  • jcricket on March 15, 2013 9:57 AM:

    In the long run, it probably means that Portman is reading the writing on the wall. His office is probably reading Ohio's temperature right now.

    But it also means that kowtowing to the rabid far right of the republican party is becoming less and less desirable in republican circles. I'll be interested to see how much of a grip the far right has on the next mid-term election cycle, and especially setting up for the next wave of presidential primaries.

  • c u n d gulag on March 15, 2013 10:01 AM:

    Ah, yes!
    How boring...

    Yet another hypocritical Republican/Conservative convert - whose conversion is due solely to how something now affects that converts self, or family.

    For years: Make other people's gay sons and daughters, and their families, lives miserable, by denying them rights?
    It's the right thing to do!
    'Cause, Jesus says, and family values, and votes!!!

    Now: Find out your son or daughter is gay, and it might make your child and your family miserable, by denying gay's rights?
    Marriage equality is now the right thing to do!
    'Cause now Jesus tells him it's ok, gays have family values too, and - VOTES!!!

    If every dollar disappears from a rich person, just watch how quickly that person becomes the biggest advocate for "The Poor" anyone's ever seen!

  • Blue Girl on March 15, 2013 10:15 AM:

    Gulag, finding out he had a lesbian daughter is exactly how my own husband came around. During the 2004 election season, my husband and I argued bitterly about the issue of gay marriage, with him at one point telling me that "marriage is what you and I are doing."

    Three years later our youngest daughter came out and he is now an ardent supporter.

    I don't care how we get there, so long as we arrive in one piece and our gay sons and daughters are full citizens.

  • c u n d gulag on March 15, 2013 10:26 AM:

    Blue Girl,
    Oh, I'm with you on that!

    And thank goodness your husband didn't turn out to be like Alan Keyes, and the way he treated his lesbian daughter.

    When I was much younger, being a HS jock back in the early 70's, I wasn't exactly too pro-homosexual myself.

    But then, when I went to college and took some parts in plays, and met some actual real-live gays and lesbian people, and not boogeymen/women, I realized they were no different from me, they just had a different sexual attraction/orientation.

    So, I'm for getting to the result we all hope for, by self-enlightment no matter how long it takes, or how someone gets there.

    It's just that I didn't build a 30+ year political career trying to screw over the poor people, while denying other people social and civil and human rights.

    Within almost every Conservative, somewhere deep within, there lies an actual empathetic human being.

    The difference is, their empathy is only for them, and theirs, and until they themselves are affected, they will continue on the course they're on.

    And THAT'S why it's important to keep pointing this our for people.

    Scratch homophobes, and there's a good chance you'll unearth a closet gay or lesbian person, full of self-loathing.
    It's sad.

  • Blue Girl on March 15, 2013 10:30 AM:

    Amen, brother!

    I put it this way when I sent this post over to Facebook:

    Until today the drops of water over the anti-gay-marriage dam have been FORMER elected officials. That changed today with Senator Rob Portman's conversion on the issue.

    It's been said before, and is about to be said again...If you don't think you know any gay people, you need to do some soul-searching to discover why you are shut out of that part of the lives of the gay people around you.

  • JohnH on March 15, 2013 10:34 AM:

    Portman is a standard-issue Republican hack; like all the rest of these morally vacant, rotten people they only have a convenient "change of heart" when an issue affects them personally. What if Portman's son hadn't come out? Would this hypocritical bastard have just gone on making life miserable and even more difficult for all the other GLBT sons and daughters out there who also want the "same opportunities" his straight kids have? Funny how these people's "faith" suddenly becomes extremely flexible when something hits close to home. Good on Portman's son; I hope he grows up to be a successful progressive activist who has a huge, very public wedding to his partner and forces his father to attend.

  • Michael Cargal on March 15, 2013 11:02 AM:

    Does this mean it's safe for Lindsey Graham to come out now?

  • c u n d gulag on March 15, 2013 11:02 AM:



    Please take down my last comment, since it referred to a John who has been (fortunately) made to disappear.

    I don't want JohnH to think I was responding to him.

  • Bootoomee on March 15, 2013 11:30 AM:

    I have difficulty respecting anyone who changes a bigoted position when they are affected personally.

    Maybe all their offsprings and relations should be afflicted by all the conditions that they have always opposed.

    In my opinion, all Portman wants to do is give a right to his son that he had always denied others. Very christian of him!

  • JohnH on March 15, 2013 12:01 PM:

    It's been said before, and is about to be said again...If you don't think you know any gay people, you need to do some soul-searching to discover why you are shut out of that part of the lives of the gay people around you.

    Blue Girl on March 15, 2013 10:30 AM

    Hear, hear Blue Girl! Well said.

  • Frank Wilhoit on March 15, 2013 12:09 PM:

    @Bootoomee gets it. This is just another manifestation of pathological narcissism, just another assertion of privilege. It does not matter WHICH privilege is being asserted. Sen. Portman has adopted an unexpected tactic in the defense of his territory.

    Now for the counterfactuals. Would Sen. Portman deserve more credit for having come to this epiphany through exposure to a different individual case, this one anecdotal, unrelated to himself or to anything in his territory ?

    We anticonservatives would prefer for him to have come to his new view as a result of thinking through the entire long history of persecution; if he had done this, if he had been capable of doing this, he would, to all effects, have become one of us. What we have difficulty respecting is any chain of reasoning that starts from an individualized anecdote; the fact that, in this case, it came from his own household makes it a little worse, but only a little.

  • Peter C on March 15, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Gay marriage was an important issue for Republicans back when it evoked a visceral response (and NOT a carefully considered or deeply reasoned response). It was never a real part of Republican ideology, they just exploited it for its visceral power. Happily, Americans have started thinking more deeply and carefully about the whole issue (as many Liberals have for some time). They’ve also had a few more years to get to know members of the Gay Community and learn that they really are just people and are not especially scary.

    With an open society, luckily, there are pressures which help open up closed minds. Children are born with open minds. Peace, prosperity, stability – those things open minds. As we emerge from the Bush Depression and end the Bush Wars we’ll become more progressive as a society.

  • DRF on March 15, 2013 12:38 PM:

    I don't see Portman's change of heart as a game changer or as a harbinger of change in the GOP. Obviously, his public reversal on gay marriage is the result of his own family situation; we can't expect right wing politicians to follow his lead.

    I suspect that Portman didn't make the decision to go public on this issue with any sort of eye towards political advantage; this may or may not hurt him when he is next up for election. Clearly, he felt compelled to take this step because of his son, and for no other reason. Good for him.

    I also suspect that Portman was one of many Republican politicians who could care less about this issue, but have mouthed all of the usual right wing talking points on same-sex marriage because it's been the politically expedient thing to do (just as many of them don't really feel strongly about abortion).

    I do find it interesting--although certainly not surprising--that so many opponents of same sex marriage reverse course when their own family member comes out of the closet and announces they want to marry. What's disappointing is that so many people who don't have a gay son, daughter, etc. simply lack the empathy or imagination to understand this issue from the perspective of a gay person.