Another Same-Sex Marriage Milestone

On Friday, the fight for marriage equality gained something new: a sitting Republican Senator who supports the cause.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio wrote an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, explaining that when his son told Portman he was gay, it “prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective.”

The timing of Portman’s reversal is not coincidental: he ties his announcement to the upcoming Supreme Court hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Portman is, as Richard Socarides writes, the “highest-profile conservative currently in government” to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Socarides raises a fascinating “what-if” question, after recalling that Portman was on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s nominee for vice president:

One can’t help wondering if having a gay son cost Portman a spot on the G.O.P. Presidential ticket. He told reporters that he disclosed the fact to the Romney campaign when he was vetted, and said they told him it was not an issue. He wouldn’t have been the first; Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian. Beth Myers, Mitt Romney’s most trusted aide and the person he tapped to oversee his Vice-Presidential selection process, is a signatory to the Ken Mehlman-inspired amicus brief from Republican Party leaders to the Supreme Court in favor of overturning Proposition 8. That said, Portman was not selected, and Paul Ryan, whose role was, in part, to reassure conservatives that Romney was no moderate, was.

Socarides’s post captures how Portman’s progress reflects an encouraging (and startling) trend. He writes that Portman’s Dispatch op-ed “gestured toward an emerging conservative position on same-sex marriage–‘One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage’–and talked about the Biblical value of compassion.”

Some liberal commentators have chastised Portman for only empathizing with gay Americans when he was forced to by a family member. But as Jonathan Capehart points out in the Washington Post, Portman’s evolution took courage, at least from a strategic perspective: in recent polls, only around 25% of Republicans say they support same-sex marriage. Portman is up for re-election in 2016; his public change of heart is not politically convenient. (Although presumably, it will boost his support among progressives.)

The Harman Firm celebrates Senator Portman’s decision to follow his conscience. Check out our other recent posts about same-sex marriage; if you have any questions about discrimination and employment law, contact us today.

(In less surprising news, Hillary Clinton endorsed marriage equality today.)