Portman’s Signal of Political Evolution: Hello, Columbus

Photograph by Jay LaPrete/AP Photo

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, wearing the red jersey, riding in the Pelotonia with his son Will Portman, right in this file photo. Portman said his views on gay marriage began changing in 2011 when his son, Will, then a freshman at Yale University, told his parents he was gay and that it wasn’t a choice but “part of who he was.” Portman said he and his wife, Jane, were very surprised but also supportive.

Written with Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio

Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, voicing support for same-sex marriage with a personal note that his son is gay, joins a bipartisan movement toward a recognition of rights that many Americans are embracing.

 “I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married,” Portman wrote in a commentary published today in the Columbus Dispatch.

Portman joins some within his own party, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, in speaking to an issue from the heart — Cheney has a daughter who is gay.

Leaders in both parties, most prominently President Barack Obama, have joined in calling on the U.S. Supreme Court (1000L) to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman, and to reinstate a constitutional amendment for gay marriage in California. The court will hear arguments on March 26 and 27.

“I’m glad Senator Portman has joined the growing majority of Americans who support full civil rights for our gay and lesbian family, friends and neighbors,” said fellow Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, in a statement today.

Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, said in a statement that 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.”

Still, opposition to same-sex marriage remains a potent political force, with 41 states banning it, and opponents say endorsements such as Portman’s can’t sway the basic family values of the American public.

“For him to try to influence public policy because of a tragic situation in his family,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati, “I do not see that as changing the views of the voters in Ohio.”

Nationally, a plurality of Americans have said they support marriage equality, according to a poll conducted by George Washington University and Politico in December, with 40 percent agreeing and 30 percent supporting civil unions. One in five surveyed said they had changed their minds on the issue, and among younger Americans — those 18-29 years of age — almost two-thirds said they support same-sex marriage.

The increasing number of political leaders speaking out in support is bound to accelerate an evolution in public thinking, says Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University in Columbus.

“This is like a snowball rolling downhill,” Beck said in an interview today. “People who you and I might respect take a view that is different from ours; we begin to think twice about our own view.”

See the full report at Bloomberg.com. 

(Hint, here’s the kicker, the son’s tweet:)


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