Republican leaders have remained relatively quiet following Sen. Rob Portman’s bombshell reversal on marriage equality, refraining from outright criticism or a detailed response. The senator, who had been a contender to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential ticket-mate, said he changed his mind after his son, Will, came out.
“Senator Portman is a great friend and ally, and the Speaker respects his position, but the Speaker continues to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said a spokesman for House Speaker for John Boehner, the top-ranking Republican.
Likewise, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered a measured response on Portman’s new support gay of marriage. “I think everybody is entitled to their positions. As a matter of personal religious conviction I’ve always believed in marriage, I believe in the traditional marriage between a man and a woman,” Cantor said on Friday. “But again, I think Senator Portman is entitled to his positions, and you know we are a party of diversity and, I think, of respect.”
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had no immediate comment but a spokesman confirmed Portman called the senator prior to making the announcement, according to The New York Times. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy also declined to comment.
The news stunned GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a staunch opponent of gay marriage. “I think the world of Rob Portman,” he said. “He’s an intelligent guy. He’s always been conservative on all the issues. It sounds to me like a really personal thing in his life and I’d rather not respond.”
Outside of Capitol Hill, chatter at the nearby at the Conservative Political Action Conference wasn’t as welcoming of the decision. An unidentified pastor from Georgia told Think Progress, “I would tell him to think about his position as a representative to the American people. Quit being so selfish as to think only about your son. And if necessary–if he can’t separate, reverse himself, on this issue–to step down and go home and allow somebody in there who is on the traditional line of the godly principles that the Constitution was founded on.”
Failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum remained steadfast in his anti-gay marriage ideology: “Just because someone changes their mind doesn’t change things.”
The Ohio Republican announced his change in position ahead of the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.
“I’m announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples’ opportunity to marry,” Portman told CNN. “I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay.”
Portman not only broke with the Republican Party’s anti-gay-marriage position, but also with his own record on the issue. As a congressman, he voted in favor of DOMA and banning gay and lesbian couples from adopting kids in Washington, D.C.
In an op-ed that appeared Friday in The Columbus Dispatch, he argued that allowing gay couples to get hitched legally “doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage” as an institution. He wrote, “British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. 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.”
Portman may not care that many in his party disagree with him, because he got public support from one important constituent: his son.
Especially proud of my dad today dispatch.com/content/storie…
— Will Portman (@wdportman) March 15, 2013