Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman made news last week when he endorsed marriage equality two years after the issue became personal for him once his son Will came out to the senator and his wife of 26 years, Will's mother Jane Portman. His announcement caused a nice little moment in my own family (which I will get to in a minute). It is yet another benchmark in the timeline that will someday soon result in LGBT Americans being treated the same as any other US citizens in regard to the right to marry, and hopefully not long thereafter, receiving every other right and privilege of citizenship we don't already have but should.
Now, Senator Portman is taking flak from both sides. Conservatives say he has, among other things, betrayed them (and God) by slipping in his faith and supporting the notion that centuries of tradition is not enough reason to continue discrimination against a group of Americans -- that argument didn't work with slavery, women's suffrage, or a lot of other issues in the past, but they're giving it yet another shot. Progressives criticize Portman for only evolving once the issue hit so close to home.
While the Tea Party on the far right is already promising a primary challenge as punishment for his blasphemy, fair-minded people across the country are shrugging their shoulders (and asking, "what took him so long?") at the notion that taking a position which almost 60% of the nation, and climbing fast, already agrees with requires any courage at all. Many on the left have also called the senator a hypocrite, and rightly so, for only doing the right thing when it touches his own family, yet failing to take the right positions in regard to the poor, elderly, women's rights, immigration, inner cities, education, and many other issues, when he was elected to represent ALL the people of Ohio, not just the ones who find themselves in the same circumstances as him and his family.
In Senator Portman's defense, his announcement took a little bravado in a few noteworthy respects, some but not all, of which are:
He is the first sitting Republican senator to publicly support marriage equality. This is widely regarded as yet another sounding of the death knell for the ever-decreasing minority still clinging to immoral and illogical anti-equality positions. And it comes during a month which, by its end, will have seen 3 more states - Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota -- inch closer and closer toward equality, more than 100 powerful Republicans file an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage, and the SCOTUS hear two history making cases which will result in a dramatic alteration of US law in regard to marriage at worst and nationwide marriage equality at best.
Second, Senator Portman is (or was before last week) also highly respected among evangelical Christians as one of their own. He took what would seem to even a normal rational Christian (they actually do exist) to be the entirely reasonable step of consulting with his pastor and church leaders (as well as giving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the heads up) before making his final evolution and going public with it. But the anti-equality people don't do reasonable. They live "by faith" (meaning they believe things that can't be proven to be true "because God said so," even though they can't prove that God said so) and claim God has chosen them to tell certain people that they aren't worthy of equal treatment. If they don't approve of something, there's a verse that backs them up in the Bible somewhere, trust them. One article even called Portman a bad father and used the term "pandering parent" to describe him, then asked if he would be supportive of the Taliban if his son Will "decided" to become a member. (Just like with every other false anti-equality argument, any LGBT person knows the distinction here is that Will did not "decide" to become gay, not because we learned the responses at Gay Training Camp, but because we have lived them. Of course, Will, as his only gay child, would obviously be the only one to think of joining the Taliban. And here's a newsflash - in the US, someone who says they are in the Taliban can still get married, but only if they are not also gay.)
Finally, the senator, considered to be one of his party's most knowledgeable and effective leaders, provided a good example to conservatives by one of their own by stating what many of us have been saying all along - namely that supporting marriage equality is, in fact, the conservative position on this issue, because it means more personal liberty and less government interference in people's lives. Portman also pointed out that "the family unit is the fundamental building block of society" and we "should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility." Right-leaning media responded by deeming the "descent into supporting 'faux' marriages" (most gays would never choose "faux" over "real" anything) or same-sex "marriages" (in quotations to emphasize that there really is no such thing) by Senator Portman to be "Obamaesque," which I assume is something they reserve as the ultimate insult.
If he gets enough of the vitriol that emanates from these people when someone does the right thing, there is plenty of room in the Democratic Party for Senator Portman, (and even in Heaven - but that's another article) provided he is willing to continue his evolution and support full equality (like ENDA, same-sex adoption, immigration rights for same-sex spouses, etc.) and the interests of the other least among us listed above who might not be related to him by blood. And in regard to marriage equality specifically, it seems like all the Republican cool kids are getting on board, led by the first person to come to mind when I think of Republican cool kids, trailblazing Dick Cheney, way back in 2004.
Portman's support of marriage equality may have already cost him the chance to be the Republican nominee for vice-president. House Speaker John Boehner gave his endorsement of Portman as his choice for VP last year to Mitt Romney, even though Romney had already done a "reverse-Portman" by opposing marriage equality after he was for it, donating $10,000 of his own money to a racist, pro-Prop 8 PAC, and hiring one of the principal pro-Prop 8 lawyers to be his head debate coach. But after coming out to Romney as the proud father of three children who he wanted to all be happy and treated equally, one of whom is gay, Portman was passed over for Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. We all know how that turned out, and if we needed any more evidence of what a poor choice that was, just last week Ryan submitted another even more Draconian budget than the one last year that helped re-elect President Obama, increased the Democrats' hold on the senate, and almost lost Ryan's party the House (which would have also cost Ryan and Boehner their titles of Chair of the House Budget Committee and Speaker of the House, respectively.) Portman is a better man than Ryan (few aren't and no one his age (42) or younger should have to "evolve" or get a free pass on equality), and would have been a better choice as a running mate, but I digress.
I've touched on many points here, but the overriding point I would like to make is a call for the practice of patience, love, and a little tolerance for the families of those of us who, like Will Portman's and mine, have struggled with letting go of something they have been brainwashed (and it is brainwashing) to believe for decades prior to finding out that a child or family member is gay. Progress is never quick, easy or painless, but it might be advisable to sit back and think about how much faster this movement has gone than past civil rights movements and realize that very soon it really will be the case that "It's Time" for marriage equality, as the campaign signs read last fall. In 1996, when Senator Portman voted for DOMA, only 27% of Americans supported marriage equality. That was a year before I came out to my family, and since then nationwide support has more than doubled. Our fellow Americans are with us, and our government is almost there as well.
I can say from personal experience that while the journey to the realization that gay people deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else, and coming to terms with that fact, was long and sometimes painful, I could not be prouder of where my own very evangelical Christian parents are today after 17 years of being out to them. And enjoying this revelation with them and Senator Portman at this moment certainly doesn't mean they get a free pass on issues that don't touch our families first hand. I called my parents yesterday just to check in, and my mom said she had already heard the news of Senator Portman's announcement. Then she said, "I don't have anything against any gay person or them having the same rights everyone else has; in fact, I really really love one of them." That was the first time in 17 years I have heard her state that kind of clear, succinct support. It may or may not have been a coincidence that her statement came immediately after the first evangelical sitting Republican US senator endorsed marriage equality. And my mom is not a senator, but her support is a lot more important to my life because that "one of them" -- is me.