Republican ‘comes out’ in support of gay marriage, liberal cynics attack


Something very good happened in the United States this week: Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, who co-sponsored DOMA and was once favoured to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, penned an editorial in the Columbus Dispatch, announcing his newfound support for gay marriage. He began to change his mind on the issue, he wrote, after his son Will came out of the closet two years ago. Here he is, below:

“At the time my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love.”

For anyone unaffiliated with NOM, it would seem like pretty heartwarming stuff—good fodder for the next marriage equality PSA, or in the very least, something for Ellen DeGeneres to dance about. The consensus among progressive pundits, however, was decidedly different.

Rob Portman made the right choice, they argued, but his history of wrong ones (voting against gay rights) overrides that. Changing your mind for personal reasons is selfish. The only noble about-face is an altruistic one.

Witness below, a living example of Oscar Wilde’s observation that a “cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Igor Volsky, the managing editor of ThingProgress.org, on Twitter:

“Kind of sad that Rob Portman probably wouldn’t have come out for marriage equality if his son wasn’t gay.”

Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic:

“Portman says he changed his mind because he looked at his son and wanted him to have a happy life. But the gay people to whom Portman was denying marriage before his conversion—those people were also someone’s sons and daughters. Does Portman only care about suffering when it occurs in his family?”

Steve Benen, on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog:

I’m genuinely glad Portman has done the right thing, and can only hope it encourages other Republicans to do the same. What I find discouraging, though, is that the Republican senator was content to support discriminatory policies until they affected someone he personally cares about. What about everyone else’s sons and daughters? Why must empathy among conservatives be tied so directly to their own personal interactions?”

The moral posturing would make Moses cringe.

Personal interaction has inspired practically all activism and ethical choice throughout history. We don’t discredit abolitionists who rejected slavery because of personal encounters with slaves, nor do we doubt the sincerity of activist parents who champion causes that affect their own children. Unless you are on the list of possibly two people in human history and imagination whose empathy is not tied to their own personal interactions (Jesus and God?), perhaps you should keep your righteous indignation to yourself.

Portman’s critics refuse to acknowledge that overcoming prejudice and changing one’s mind—for whatever reason—is a really big deal. It’s something that should be commended, especially when you come from an enormously anti-equality environment, in which minds do not change overnight.

Being gay is not a choice, but neither is being born to a socially conservative, Methodist family. The way a person is raised—to believe homosexuality is a grave sin for example—is as beyond his control as his sexual orientation. No one is immune to child rearing. I was not immune to my own secular Jewish, liberal upbringing, which instilled in me two core principles: that it’s perfectly okay to be gay but it’s not okay to drink milk with dinner. Had those principles been reversed, as I’m guessing they were in the Portman household, I don’t know what I would believe. I don’t know if I would have the courage to challenge my convictions as Rob Portman has, and announce publicly that they have changed. I don’t know because I am lucky to have never had to make such a choice. And I suspect, neither have any of the cynics above. It’s easy to love everyone and everything with conviction when you were never taught to hate.

I understand the urge to dismiss Portman and people like him—people who come out for equality later in life–if you have always been “out” yourself. But to dismiss him on those grounds is to lose sight of the bigger picture: Portman’s change is a boon for gay rights.  And celebrating that change is an even bigger boon. It lets others know that if or when they follow suit, they too will be celebrated. They may lose friends in one corner, but they’ll gain a whole lot more, somewhere else. Chiding Rob Portman for his homophobic past isn’t bad for Rob Portman: it’s bad for gay rights. It leaves progressives in the closet and open-minded people in the dark–caught between one community that will denounce them for thinking differently, and another, for not thinking differently soon enough.

There will come a time when Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, because it would be political suicide to do otherwise. If the pro-equality movement in the United States wants that time to come sooner rather than later, it should give its newest members an extra warm welcome.

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Republican ‘comes out’ in support of gay marriage, liberal cynics attack

  1. Emma, this is the best commentary I’ve read on the Portman story.
    Best regards,
    Ross Kaminsky
    American Spectator magazine

    • I agree. Most of the comments I’ve read focus only on the past and ignore the future where Portman will have private conversations with his fellow conservatives. I don’t expect he’ll ever be a vocal supporter of LGBT rights like Brian Burke but his change of outlook will be influential, if only because it gives cover to others who would moderate their anti-gay rhetoric.

      Portman was not forced “out of the closet” – he could have remained mostly silent about gay rights and carried on with his political career. By taking a public stand, he is moving ahead of the rest of the conservative crowd – it’s one of the few signs that the Republican Party may be moving from its outrageous, extreme positions on LGBT and other issues, including women’s rights and immigration, that have delivered repeated electoral defeats.

      • I guess I viewed this story as a modern medical miracle. Gays cannot be “cured” but occasionally, given just the right circumstances, Republicans can.

        • Very good! LOL

  2. There are different faiths and belief systems all over this planet. The biggest wall for the LGBT community to tear down is the religious one. Most of these people that are homophobic for religious reasons have been brought in the belief system. Just as Catholics are against any form of contraception. Silly? Yes, but this is one of their core beliefs. Religion is not going to catch up with society anytime soon. That totally goes against the whole point of their religious foundation. Just as evolution is a long way away from catching up with us. Girls shouldn’t become women at as young as 5 years old either, but we have no control over that either. I hope someday that true equal rights for all is a normal, accepted part of life globally. This Senator spent his entire life with these Christian beliefs, and then he was faced with the reality of homosexuality in is own personal world and it changed his thinking. Instead of bashing him for it, praise him for being able to put aside this belief system he has had his whole life and his ancestors before him. My father had the same outlook until he spent an entire day with myself and a gay couple I am friends with. Once he met them, and spent time with them and conversed with them, you could see his whole philosophy melt away. This is an old country boy, southern baptist, but his attitude changed completely. I don’t fault for him for believing as he did. I understand that he had no reason to believe otherwise, now he does. The transformation in this country in the last decade or so, and the slow social acceptance of the LGBT community is a wonderful thing. Keep fighting the good fight, but when someone does have an about face and you know they truly mean it, don’t trash them for it. So typical of the liberal community, so much venom. That is not representative of the LGBT community at all and they should out in his defense.

    • Thanks for this post – very thoughtful, and a nice read.
      Just a quibble with this part, though:

      I understand that he had no reason to believe otherwise, now he does.

      That strikes me as not completely accurate. Apparently your dad had never had direct contact with a gay couple, and in the absence of that direct contact, he had a few options.
      One option was to form no opinion, to operate on the premise that unless he has direct personal experience he doesn’t have enough evidence to form an opinion. Admittedly it is very difficult for any of us to go through life with that approach.
      Which leaves us with the other option, which is to make use of the opinions and evidence provided by others, and certainly a range of alternative opinions wrt gays have been out there for quite some time – choices were made regarding which opinions to agree with and which to dismiss.
      And the same is true for Portman – the basic question is why, when campaigning against gays, didn’t he think to himself “What if my own son was gay? Would I do anything differently?”

      • Yes that is true. Especially for Portman as a politician, he could have tried to put himself in the shoes of others. In my dads’ case, he’s an old country boy in a small town who watches nothing but westerns and goes to church, very little internet usage, so he doesn’t have as wide a view of the world as a lot of us do, so for that I forgive his ignorance.

        • Exactly!
          Also, in Portman’s case I was going to add that “he could have tried to put himself in the shoes of others” should actually be “he should have tried to put himself in the shoes of others” – but after some second thought I won’t.
          The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others is a characteristic that I look for in a politician, but it would be wrong for me to say that other voters should must also look for that characteristic.

  3. “There will come a time when Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, because it would be political suicide to do otherwise. If the pro-equality movement in the United States wants that time to come sooner rather than later, it should give its newest members an extra warm welcome.” — Maybe I don’t trust the help of a bunch of self-serving liars. What is that phrase? You don’t turn your back on a snake.

    • And you think the Nancy Pelosi’s of the world give a rats ass about you? Please. As she said “Being gay is not a choice, but neither is being born to a socially
      conservative, Methodist family. The way a person is raised—to believe
      homosexuality is a grave sin for example—is as beyond his control as his
      sexual orientation. No one is immune to child rearing.” These people who do have a change of heart should not be shunned if ou want someday for all to be treated equally.

      • Its not a change of heart though. It shows a fundamental lack of caring about the society and the policies that help shape this society, until.. something personal makes them re-think their ideology.

        Leaders are supposed to lead. They are supposed to be able to take an unbiased analysis of the situation and react to the needs of the society. It seems that this republican leader cannot show empathy or understanding towards anyone until someone he personally cares about would be affected poorly by it. That is a hallmark of a poor leader and thus they do not deserve your respect or support.

        As for being raised to believe that homosexuality is a sin, that is a belief. When a leader lets their personal beliefs dictate how to run social policy for a populace with widespread varying beliefs, its baby steps towards fascism.

        • But his beliefs and values are what got him elected. He represents a subset of our society. Perhaps not one that you or I completely agree with, but that is their beliefs and values. We have different political parties with different beliefs, values and agendas. I don’t feel that the democratic party represents me in terms of economic growth and taxation, the Republican party doesn’t represent my beliefs on family, religion and liberty. I am like many in this country, somewhere in the middle. I am firmly pro-life (except, incest, rape or the mothers life is in danger), pro-gun and pro gay rights. I believe in two parent households (gay or straight), and hard work, liberty, my rights and that government isn’t the answer to all our problems. We still have a long way to go, as we get older, and our children get older, bigotry and racism and homophobia will slowly (hopefully) get weeded out by future generations acceptance and seeing all of us as human beings with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To say he didn’t care about society isn’t totally accurate, he was following his core beliefs and those of his constituency. We elect these retards into office, there is nobody to blame but us. Both parties are full of evil morons who only want to be re-elected and line their own pockets. It is a pipe dream to think that our “leaders” act unbiased with the needs of society as a whole as their priority, they act to protect the themselves and to some degree the desires of those certain people that voted for them. So is a person who becomes a crusader for cancer research after battling the disease a hypocrite for not helping prior to getting the disease? Life experiences are what shape us into the people we are. My husband grew up in a tiny northern town and had never met a black person before in his life. All he knew was what he had read, seen or been told by media and family. Sounds bizarre but it’s true. His perception was less than positive until he moved and met several people and his attitude changed. It doesn’t make him a monster, it makes him naive perhaps and ill informed, but his life experience is what it is and he has learned a new way of thinking. That is how we grow as a people. We aren’t all born loving everyone and everything and all is happy, frolicking, perfection my friend. Live and let live. Accept our differences and embrace those that have come to the light side.

    • And do you think you’re attitude is going to encourage anybody to change their mind?

  4. Just as M. Douglas in the movie Traffic a dad opens his mind once the information hits close to home. BUT the criticisms are valid of a politician/any politician who seems to need a stimulus that doesn’t come from looking at the issue with an open mind and an alternate, selfish agenda.

  5. As noted on Twitter……the day Portman notices he has a daughter we’ll be safe from rightwing lunacy on women.

  6. Stories like this are a great example of personal justification rather than moral justification. Oh… my sons gay? ……… Well I guess it’s ok to be gay then. What a joke.

    • Many, many people see no reason to challenge their perceptions until it becomes personal. Does the why really matter? The important part is that he made the realization, admitted he was wrong in the past, and is changing his beliefs. For anybody – but especially for a politician – that’s not an easy thing.

      Or are you saying he was right all along and his changed viewpoint indicates moral weakness?

      • I’m not saying that his political viewpoint is right or wrong. What I am saying is that his morals have changed to suit his new environment.

        • It’s a little thing called personal growth.

          • Personal growth? You must mean personal justification. Adjust your blinders… because your vision isn’t 20/20 on this subject.

  7. Ehh… and if Hitler had suddenly become a Jew-loving pacifist is it expected for Jews to suddenly forgive the genocide of 6 million of their people? I’m sure Portman will be accepted in the course of time but you can’t just expect the people he has purposefully hurt to instantly set aside their deep pain and bias overnight. His motivations are also self-serving… he was elected to serve a broad constituency which undoubtedly includes gays but he chose not to recognize their value until his own household was impacted. By his actions he admits that his personal convictions swayed his objectivity to represent his constituency.

    • So would you rather he did not admit to being wrong about same-sex marriage? It seems that liberals like being able to call Republicans “bigots”. But when it turns out that a Republican is being progressive, they accuse him of being a “cynic”. It seems like there is no way to satisfy the left. It’s all pointless finger pointing.

  8. Look, the guy was a hard core conservative. Of course he needed a personal reason to change is mind on such an issue.

  9. I understand the urge to dismiss Portman and people like him


    You understand nothing, from you vapid equation of anyone learning to come to terms with equality with a politician who makes gain from his hate until it affects his family personally, to your classification of their positions as “posturing”

    Hundreds if not thousands of new journalism grads each year, Macleans. Speaks very poorly of you that you hired a middling talent with a father in the industry over someone with true insight and talent to give such a prominent column. Tons of baristas and clerks in their late 20s and considerably more talent must get justifiably angry every time they read her work.

  10. People are forgetting that this man is an elected US senator.

    He is not a lobbyist….for his religion, his prejudices, his beliefs….and those of his buddies.

    He is there to govern…..for everybody.

    And if he aspires to being a leader in a democracy, that’s what it involves. Everybody.

    ALL the taxpayers, and ALL the voters….their children and their future. Not just the ones he personally approves of.

    So….as a politician, it’s incumbent upon HIM to reach out and to learn. He shouldn’t have to be taught.

    • And didn’t he just do that?

      • A kick in the ass, and 2 years later…..yeah.

        • So Obama gets praised for it and he gets slagged?

          What should be important is that he has a change of heart, and the courage to say so. Given the party he represents, it was probably a lot harder a choice than the one Obama made – and the timing is less politically suspect.

          You don’t have to have a change of heart re his politics generally; just recognize him for having the courage to publicly state his change of heart on this issue, and go back to bashing him for his policies that you don’t like.

          • Obama got slagged for it for most of his first term…..as I’ve already said.

            Oh….and how about he now recognizes he has a daughter?

  11. 1) Perhaps one of the idiotic leftist commenters on this page could explain why Obama is the only one allowed to be celebrated for changing his mind on this issue.

    2) So people who only change their minds on issues because of personal reasons are hypocrits? Great. Go with that. Tell that to Gabby Giffords.

    • it would be best for the both of us and everyone here if you think about it hard enough to reach the conclusion by yourself. Especially before you call OTHER people idiots.

  12. One of your better pieces, Emma. Well said.

  13. If he was just some old guy in the middle of Texas it might be kind of cute, but he’s an elected representative forming public policy. he should have realized this long ago in his line of work. THAT is the difference.

  14. “For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not
    offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the
    president’s revelation last year that conversations with his daughters
    friends led him to change his mind
    gave many in that
    community hope.” – CNN

    Now, you leftist hacks slagging on a conservative for needing a personal reason to have a change of heart on gay marriage…find me where Obama was ever criticized by anyone on the left for this change of heart? Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

    You people have no idea what hypocrisy is.

    • You are both appalling and comical in equal measure. you realize how even more insane your “media bias” hysteria is when we also see stuff like this from you?

    • If you ever read Dem sites in the US, you’d know they jumped all over him for not doing something in his first term

      Stop making silly assumptions.

  15. Point is guys, I don’t care WHY he changed his mind, I only care that he did. So long as we finally have equal rights for all. Think how rapidly all of this has come to the forefront. Times change, people change, countries change, values change, governments change. It’s our job to raise our children with the right beliefs and try to change hearts in our own little worlds. The men we praise for building this country were slave owners, do we all go around bashing them for it, some do, but for the most part no because of the amazing things they did accomplish and because then it was legal and accepted. It takes time to change the whole of nations mind about something like this especially when for centuries that country has idealized itself as a Christian nation when in fact it is not, nor is it a Democracy, it is a Republic by which all shall be free. It’s up to us to elect the right people. Don’t crucify the conservatives when they change their mind unless you want to scare more into not saying what most of them probably feel which is they believe in equal rights. Don’t be hypocrites and praise Obama who was always opposed but when he has a change of heart he’s a hero, and if he wasn’t for it before, there are other democrats who aren’t for it either, so it isn’t just a conservative issue, it’s more a religious, moral issue for these people, not left/right.

  16. Hear, hear!

  17. If liberals turn gay rights into a clique thing the way they did with global warming, they’re going to lose it to partisanship the same way as well. The majority of people who oppose gay rights do so because they don’t understand it. These people can, obviously, be taught. This teaching comes easiest when a member of that persons family shows them the way. Very few parents would turn their backs on their children because they were gay. As this means that societal acceptance of gay rights is basically inevitable, we have to accept that eventually there will be people not normally in the liberal sphere who will come to the same conclusion at a later period and for all together different reasons. Ultimately, you have to respect where people are coming from and what, ultimately, guides their worldview. Education is the answer, and with it gay rights will become as universal as other rights. The reaction in some liberal circles to this is bizarre.

  18. Extremely disappointed in this kind of pathetically grateful reaction to token approval, in a queer writer.

    You shouldn’t be congratulating someone on attaining an extremely basic level of human decency. It’s like handing out medals for not kicking puppies or throwing rocks at homeless people.

  19. And….Ms. Teitel comes one step closer to grasping the utter mendacity of the political left…

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