Ten Miles Square


March 18, 2013 11:55 AM Portman and Gay Marriage

By Mark Kleiman

So Rob Portman’s son comes out as gay, and Portman changes his mind on gay marriage. Lots of fun snark around this, of course: “Eventually one of these Republican congressmen is going to find out his daughter is a woman, and then we’re all set.” (Something to this, it turns out.) “Let’s hope Portman’s kid has trouble finding affordable healthcare.”

Yes, as a moral stance reconsidering your principles only when they hurt you personally isn’t especially impressive. Jonathan Chait asks, “But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about what’s good for all of us, rather than what’s good for himself and the people he knows?” And no one answers. Since no Republican officeholder expects to become poor, let alone black or undocumented, they will continue in good conscience to back policies are horrible for poor, black, and undocumented people, unless they think it will cost them votes. (The Onion to the contrary notwithstanding, none of their kids will die for lack of health coverage. Note that Portman doesn’t seem to have changed his mind about job discrimination against gays.)

Still, I’ll take what I can get. Maybe his son’s coming-out genuinely drove Portman to re-examine his conscience, or maybe it provided an easy way for Portman to make a move necessary if he wants to win enough Millennial votes to capture the White House, while cushioning the blow to social conservatives.

One thing you can bet the ranch on: it wouldn’t have happened ten years ago, and it won’t be necessary ten years from now. In the meantime, celebrate!

Footnote I’m glad to see Newt Gingrich holding fast to his position that marriage is between one man and one woman … after another.

[Originally posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.


  • Ben on March 20, 2013 1:32 PM:

    Why can't we simply celebrate this as a win. Yes, Portman came around to supporting gay marriage later in the game than we may have liked, but at least he came around. In a culture that tends to denigrate and stigmatize LGBT lifestyles, most people are socialized to be less than supportive. The people who turn the corner and support gay marriage usually have some influence that gets them there: good parenting, personal examination of their conscience, or a personal connection. Portman is not the first and will not be the last person to overcome a prejudice because of the power of a personal relationship. Instead of belittling that we should be asking how to develop that personal connection for more people. How do we expect to win over our opponents when we are not happy with merely publicly proclamations of their new found agreement with our stance, but demand that they do it in the manner we see fit? How does it encourage those folks to step away from their circle and towards ours when they get scoffed at for it?

    I, for one, am proud that Portman took the stand he did. As a powerful and influential person in his party, it is very meaningful for him to stand up for his new beliefs and to admit he was wrong before. It speaks to his quality as a father that he would listen to his son and take to heart what his political stance meant to him as a person. I do not think that this one act gives him a pass on other issues of social wellfare or equality, but I do believe we should congratulate him on this step forward and celebrate that one more inch we've moved towards equality.

    I hope the message we can send to other convervatives out there who secretly support gay marriage but say nothing or those who have a change of heart is "Stand up and be heard. We will welcome you and embrace you for this." I firmly believe that is how we win support and minds.

  • Challenger on March 20, 2013 5:04 PM:

    Beautifully stated, Ben. The world would be a much better place if there were more thoughtful, positive and eloquent people like you in it.