GOP Death Watch

Rob Portman’s Change Of Heart Highlights Casual Homphobia Of The Republican Party

First off, good for Sen. Rob Portman for coming out in favor of marriage equality.  In today’s Republican party, taking a public stand that flies in the face of the current orthodoxy requires courage, as well as confidence that you won’t be facing a primary challenge any time soon.

Portman’s support matters. He is the quintessential establishment Republican and was a runner-up to be Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate. (Although not being chosen was the equivalent of losing your boarding pass for the Titanic, and the gay son angle probably didn’t help his chances in any case.)

Unlike the bulk of the Republicans who signed onto the Supreme Court brief in support of gay marriage, Portman is actually in a position to do something. And it’s a good father who is willing to rethink long-held beliefs out of love for his children.


The disturbing part of Portman’s announcement is his acknowledgment that he probably wouldn’t have given marriage equality a second thought if it hadn’t been for his son. In a CNN interview, Portman was asked what he would say to people who were happy that he changed his position but wonder why it took having a gay son to do so.

“Well, I would say that, you know, I’ve had a change of heart based on a personal experience,” Portman responded with what CNN calls “a shoulder shrug.”

You would hope that someone in political life would actually consider the societal implications of his positions instead of acting solely from purely personal experience. Of course, that may be asking too much from a politician. But Portman would have remained on autopilot for who knows how long simply because  he never stopped to think about whether he should change.

“I hadn’t expected to be in this position,” he told CNN. “But I do think, you know, having spent a lot of time thinking about it and working through this issue personally that, you know, this is where I am, for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy.”

That answer underscores the casual homophobia that pervades the GOP today: True, there’s a big contingent in the party that is so socially conservative that they would be happy to see a return to the Inquisition, and may even view that as a bit squishy. But there are also folks like Marco Rubio, who told the CPAC conference this week that the definition of marriage should be left to the states. Rubio trumpeted his support for traditional marriage, but he didn’t call for a repeal of state laws that promote equality, which would have been the sign of a real believer. On a similar note, Rand Paul told reporters this week that tax reform was the solution to the quest for marriage equality. These are two of the leading lights of the party today.

Republicans are so beholden to its past that it can’t shake it off. The party been so anti-gay for so long that party leaders reflexively hold onto positions simply out of habit. It’s red meat for the fringe, so why change? (I hear you say, human decency would be a good motive, but we are talking politics.) What’s striking about Portman’s admission is the silence with which it has been met by his peers. You’d think he just told them that his son was a serial killer and they were keeping silent out of respect for a family tragedy.

Finally, let’s not lose sight of who really displayed courage in this episode: Portman’s son Will. He demonstrated tremendous integrity by coming out to his father at age 19, knowing that Dad voted for DOMA and was a  leading light in a political party that made opposition to gay marriage a centerpiece of its get-out-the-vote strategy.

If there’s any future for the GOP, they will have to find a way to make Will feel that he (and whoever he marries) belongs as part of the party, and not just because his Dad is a leader of it.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #politics #cpac #gopdeathwatch stories and more


  • yaoming

    Will rocks… Dad, not so much.

  • Hunter

    The more I think about this, the more I see it as a prime example of the right’s tribalism: consequences to anyone who is not a member of your tribe don’t matter. When it’s your son, then it’s a different story. (Don’t get me wrong: tribalism is alive and well on the left, too — just read any comment thread at a couple of blogs that shall remain nameless but are known for their retreads of New Left ideology — but in general, the left recognizes much larger tribes.)

    Will Portman do anything pro-active to further the establishment of civil rights guarantees for LGBTs? I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    The only way Republicans will be able to win is by cheating, voter suppression,(with the Supreme Court for assisting them,) and opportunistically gerrymandering states that are too mute to rise up and fight them. It would be embarrassing to be a member of this party. More dark than stark.

  • esslar

    Senator Portman was ignorant about gay people. Then his son educated him. That’s what this is all about. This is going to keep happening and that’s good. Harvey Milk told us this is why we have to keep coming out–he was right.

  • Charles175

    There has even been multiple outcries from different people amongst the Religious Right for him to take back his decision and in turn treat his son as though he has a legal behavioral issue like alcoholism. Telling him that his son is doomed to die of AIDS. This all the while ignoring the fact that his son wants the monogamy, the STD safety of a committed marriage.

  • rand503

    @Charles175: Of course they would try that. The issue is only going one way — towards equality. I don’t know of any politician, or anyone for that matter, who once was for equality and then changed their mind.

    So every person that they lose is a person they lose permenantly, and their strenght diminishes. All they have left now are threats against people like Portman and hope that they can convince their own children to hate gays as much as they do.

    Otherwise, they are toast, and they know it.

  • hf2hvit

    He still believes that states have the right to not acknowledge a gay marriage from another state. So he’s fine if his gay son marries but moves to a different state and his marriage means NOTHING???


  • jstepp88

    As a gay Republican, I’m glad to see this change. The gay marriage issue is a slow moving grassroots campaign within the GOP. Some of us are critical of Senator Portman for waiting until his son came out to actually speak out and change his mind. To you I say this: This is no different than any other parent. My parents were extremely against gay rights and gay marriage. Then I came out to them. Experiencing it first hand, and learning about a new lifestyle that is different from the one you’ve known is the best way to open somebody’s eyes. It’s no different than working in a restaurant. After being a server, you tend to have a better appreciate for the work that goes into it. Also, lets not attack those that risk their careers to support us. When President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, he was hailed as a hero, even though he said that was just his PERSONAL opinion, and that he also thought it was ok for states like South Carolina, where I grew up, which bans gay marriage, to choose for themselves. It seems like whenever a Republican favors gay marriage, we find a way to bash him/her and say that it took them to long, or that they only did it because their child is gay, but that’s often what it takes to force somebody to change an opinion that they’ve had their entire life. I like to thank the internet and the rise of social media for the rapid growth in acceptance of the gay marriage issue, because not all of us have gay family members, but being able to go online and read how these issues affect people, and how hard it can be is enough to gain support from many people. But just a few years ago, that information wasn’t as easily accessible. That being said, please stop attacking him, or criticizing Senator Portman’s revalation, and start supporting those whom support us!

  • Cam

    @hf2hvit: said…

    “He still believes that states have the right to not acknowledge a gay marriage from another state. So he’s fine if his gay son marries but moves to a different state and his marriage means NOTHING???”

    Yeah, isn’t it interesting that the party that constantly spouts out about the Constitution actually attempts to break it every chance they get. Not honoring another states marriage is a direct breach of the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.

    The GOP’s constant chant of “States Rights” was the EXACT SAME chant that the Confederate states used as their excuse for fighting the civil war. Not very pro-America to use the same chant as a conquered former enemy of the nation.


    Once again, if you know someone who is gay, you are much more likely to be open-minded. Like another commentator stated, perhaps Harvey Milk was right.

    However: Sorry, Marco Rubio, but leaving it up to the state is a cop-out. You can’t have people married in New York but not in South Carolina. That would create a legal mess. Moreover, what about immigration rights? That has to be decided on a federal level.

  • Little-Kiwi

    @jstepp88: this is the thing – as a gay liberal child of straight liberals, my parents supported LGBT people, in all ways and levels, way before i Came Out to them. In fact, decades before I was born.

    I understand that when dealing with republicans and conservatives we need to lower our standards and expectations – liberals, by liberal nature, care about others. conservatives, by nature, care about themselves. realizing he’d spent years making life harder for “people like his own son” is what woke up Portman.

    not the ongoing high number of LGBT youth suicides. not his “gay friends” that he claims to have. not listening to his constituents, and apparently not being a conscientious human being. no, he had to realize he was hurting his own son. previously, he didn’t care one bit that he was hurting, you know, other people’s sons and daughters.

    so, his son comes out.
    two years later, months after the Presidential election, he makes a public statement that he no longer is against gay marriage.
    he also stated that he will not be taking a leadership position on LGBT Equality, or gay marriage issues, and thinks it should be left to the states. his reasoning? well, his exact words were “i don’t want to force my opinion onto others” – ironic, eh? he didn’t mind forcing his anti-gay views onto gay people, but now he won’t force…..uh… his son’s gayness onto his fellow republicans?

    wow. what an awesome dad.

    don’t get me wrong, it’s great he’s not a complete waste of space and a bigot anymore. but this is reallly not that impressive.

    what’s his next step? think about it – he now needs to do for others what he remains unable to do for himself: get republicans to care about other people’s childen. and not just their own.

    do y’all see the irony?

    when will the GOP change? when all the gay children of anti-gay republicans come out?

    what will stop the GOP’s anti-Choice stance, too? if all their daughters get raped?

    and Jstepp – you miss a big point. Obama’s “change” didn’t come from HIS OWN child coming out. it came from reflection, understanding, empathy, and compassion.

    Portman? not the same thing.

    Obama did what Portman can’t – he cared about OTHERS, who are not in his family. i hope this clears it up for you

  • Little-Kiwi

    and the thing is , it’s not about “knowing someone that’s gay” – Portman has gone on record that he knew gay people, he had gay friends. he just didn’t care about them.

    he didn’t care that 1 in 4 LGBT Youth attempt suicide. he didnt’ care at all. it wasn’t HIS kids doing it.

    well, now he cares.

    MILK is, and was, right. sadly, it seems that “knowing someone” isn’t enough for republicans.

    heck, we still get republicans that say “well, i’m fine with my gay son. i just choose to vote for anti-gay people anyway, because i’m a republican, and our hearts work even less well than our brains”

  • DarkZephyr

    GOD I just want DOMA GONE. I want my MAN back. I want him out of Russia and WITH ME again where he belongs!

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Little-kiwi, The Republicans know Lndsey Grahambiscuits and John Boehner and still they discriminate.

  • Atomicrob

    This boils down to family trumping the job. His job was to promote the GOP homophobic platform and champion the views of likeminded extremists. When he was going through the vetting process to become Romney’s running mate, he continued to vote for and espoused anti-LGBT policy. It was not until after the election, and after he was rejected in favor of Ryan, that he chose to reveal the information about his son. I’m certain we won’t be seeing the good Senator marching in Gay Pride parades or championing our cause in any real or effective manner.

Comments are closed.