The debate over Rob Portman

Tom Jackson
Mar 18, 2013


By now, if you pay any attention to political news all, you have probably heard that Ohio's Republican U.S. senator, Rob Portman, has changed his position on gay marriage and now supports it. Portman's son is gay and finding that out in 2011 when his son "came out" played a key role in changing the senator's mind.

Portman's announcement has sparked a lively debate among commentators who support gay marriage about how much credit Portman deserves for changing his mind. 

Matthew Yglesias, the influential Slate blogger, penned a scathing column asking why conservative Republicans never have an emphathy for struggling people unless it's an issue that touches them personally. 

"The great challenge for a senator isn't to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It's to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don't have direct access to the corridors of power," Yglesias wrote.

Various other lefties have piled on Portman in similar vein, including Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman

These criticisms have produced an interesting pushback from other writers, who wonder why Portman can't get any credit for changing his mind.

Mike Riggs at Reason wrote that the criticism is "concern trolling at its most formulaic--10 percent approval, 90 percent goal-post moving." 

Glenn Greenwald noted that Portman's change of heart was similar to Barack Obama's.

"It may be selfish and narcissistic to support equality only once you realize inequality harms those you care about, but that has been a very common dynamic - among people from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, whose switch from opposing gay marriage to supporting it was triggered by a very similar experience to the one motivating Portman," Greenwald wrote.

"That's why coming out has been such a powerful act: because people are less willing to support discrimination when they they realize it harms those they care about. It's true in general: it's much harder to demonize people when they're familiar."
Will Saletan, also at Slate, argued that Portman's critics don't realize it wasn't easy for Portman to break with his party.
"When your parents and peers are liberal, reaching liberal conclusions is no sweat. You don’t support SNAP benefits because you know malnourished kids, any more than you support climate-change legislation because you know peasant farmers. It isn’t empathy that leads you to these conclusions. It’s inertia," Saletan wrote.









Does anyone seriously think that 95% of the voters will remember this when Portman next has to run for office? Really? It will be old news and already forgotten in a week or two.

Erie Sniper

I will remember. If he's going to play politics when it is important to himself. When it was your child he was against gay marriage, but now that he knows his son is gay, he wants him to have equal opportunity. What will he flip-flop on next?


Sorry, but I have to agree with Erie Sniper. You either think homosexuality is immoral or you don't. You either favor or oppose gay marriage as a result. To change what SHOULD have been a core principle merely because it just got personal is either the sign of a weak set of principles to begin with, or a selfish man who now has a personal horse in the race, so to speak. Either way, while it probably defines most politicians pretty well, it doesn't strike me as especially complimentary!

The Big Dog's back

You just gave the definition of most repubs sam.

Not Yer Pa

Imagine the flip-flopping if there was a military draft.


I do not see how this affects ME. His kid is gay so what.

Super Judge

First Ronnie Reagans son , now Portmans boy have come out of the closet. When will these kids learn their place and repress their feelings for the good of the GOP (Gods Own Party)? The shame the shame!


They need a like button on this site !!!!!! :o)

There you go again

Reagan's son is a woman.

Super Judge

You are wrong as well.


Ron Reagan is not gay.

"I've been married for 23 years( August 31, 2004). Pretty good for a gay guy..."

Over the years, Reagan says he's been attacked by the gay press "for not coming out. I guess it's because I'm a man and ballet dancer. If I had been a truck driver, nobody would have brought that up."

thinkagain's picture

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..

Super Judge

Your wrong.

thinkagain's picture

It's you're not your. You're wrong again. I won't always be around when you screw up, please consider remedial spelling classes...

Super Judge

Are you threatening me, a veteran? Are you threatening a VETERAN?

Darwin's choice

Threatening you? Hardly from what I'm reading. However, if you are a veteran, and are "threatened" by what is being said here, you need help.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).