Rob Portman and Discovery

Rob Portman is an Ohio senator who, until recently, had been an ardent enemy of same-sex marriage.

Like many conservatives, Portman believed homosexuality to be a sin. In 1996 he supported the Defense of Marriage Act. In his state, gay marriage is illegal—a law he also backed.

Then, two years ago, his 21-year-old son, Will, came out. Now Portman believes gay marriage should be legal. He made this opinion clear in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

On the one hand, this is good news. Clearly, the tide has turned on the gay marriage issue, and before long the rapidly decreasing number of bigoted evangelists and arch-conservatives will fade off into the sunset, gone forever. Gay marriage is all but certain to become a federal law—whether the Supreme Court rules in its favor in a few months, or if it takes a couple of more years. You don’t have to have eyes to see where this is heading.

And yet—I find myself infuriated with Rob Portman and his ilk. Back in the 1950s and ’60s (and even early ’70s), white southerners fought to the death to keep their colleges and universities 100-percent white. They didn’t want integration; didn’t want those negros soiling their beautiful campuses. Then (whoa) they started playing football. And dominating football. Running left. Running right. Tackling. Suddenly, every school had to have those same negros. Not just one or two. Ten! Twenty! Before long, they were (gasp!) everywhere. Making straight-As. Winning academic scholarships. Uncovering scientific breakthroughs. Holy shit—the world didn’t end. Or even come close to ending.


I digress. I am happy to hear of Rob Portman’s change of heart. I think it’s beautiful that he’s accepted his son. But, well, where the fuck were you five, 10, 15, 20 years ago? Why was it so hard to see this truth in others? Why did it have to be your son? Were the sons and daughters of others not good enough? Not important enough? You viewed them as unworthy, unacceptable outcasts. But, because it’s your offspring, your eyes have been open? Convenient.

I’m not trying to make this a political post—but am I wrong in saying there’s a lengthy history of this happening with conservatives on social issues? They drag their feet and drag their feet and drag their feet, only to see, oh, maybe we were off. I still get a kick out of seeing older southern politicians observing moments of silence on Martin Luther King Day. There’s a delicious irony; honoring the man whose ideas repulsed you. Pretending, in hindsight, that you were with him the whole time.

I am not gay. No one in my family is openly gay. I’ve had a few scattered gay friends throughout my life, but not too many. Wanna know why I’m 100-percent pro-gay marriage? Wanna know why I’ve been 100-percent pro-gay rights for as long as I can remember?

Because they’re people, and they deserve equal treatment and respect under the law.

I don’t need my son to show me that.


26 thoughts on “Rob Portman and Discovery”

  1. Jeff Pearlman, the guy who has never changed his mind over any issue, ever, because he realized he was in the wrong. Got it.

    It’s amazing to me that the reaction to this news from most members of Team Blue today has not been one of celebration, of acknowledgement that the tide is turning. No. It’s just partisan politics the whole way through.

    By the way — where was a similar post to this one about Obama “evolving” on gay marriage simply because it was politically convenient? That’s right, he’s a member of Team Blue, so silence and crickets to something far worse than Portman’s own “evolution.”

      1. Yes, and when Obama changed his mind, you were ready to put him on Mt. Rushmore (a little hyperbole there, but I recall many a flowery posts about Obama’s change of heart, and how he will now go down as a great statesman as a result). Obama only enhanced his base by supporting gay marriage. And he is never running for office again. There is no profile in courage with Obama. Portman took an unpopular stand with his base, and his his constituents.

        Don’t forget, it took a Republican to recogonize Communist China, and a Democrat to reform welfare. Change happens when the “other” side comes on board. Rather then attack Portman for past statements, welcome him aboard, without condition. If you won’t, then who will?

        Oh, and for the record: I am Republican, I have a gay family member, and I am pro-Gay marriage. And I know a lot more about that trifecta then you do.

  2. What a nasty blog post on something that should be celebrated. Jeff, maybe if you had a few more gay friends, you too would be in a happier mood about this. Here is a guy who likely committed political suicide with his own party just to do what’s right, family or not. And you write something like this chastising him? Would you rather see him and others of his ilk dig in more despite their gay sons and daughters? What I hate is when people get mad when someone changes their mind on things. Their accused of flip flopping, yet they’re a member of a political party trying to achieve social change. See the conflict here? No wonder it takes generations to achieve social change.

  3. I applaud the Senator for changing his mind. I equate to finding religion – it doesn’t matter when you wise up or how you wise up, the better thing is that you do. Period. During the civil rights movement, people changed their minds and joined the cause for justice. How ungrateful would the civil rights leaders have been if they judged them for taking too long to wise up instead of saying thank you and encourage them to take the fight to their friends and neighbors.

    We don’t do a great job in this country of saluting people who change their minds on many issues (most of us still associate George Wallace with segregation instead of also how he changed his position after being shot). I remember when that was considered growth, not weakness or a cause of outrage. I don’t care when you join my side but I’m glad you’re an ally now. I hope we can salute Portman for his awakening instead of chastise him for being late.

    1. The Pride of Curry

      I’m a native son of Alabama, and truthfully, I’m not so sure Wallace changed so much as it became dumb for him not to realize that not apologizing for his past behavior. Maybe he did, I don’t know. But I was always a tad skeptical.

      As for Jeff, we get it–Republicans and conservatives are terrible people who deserve no nods for anything. And for the record–a good number of those “Southern politicians” you lambasted for being repulsed by MLK were Democrats. And hey, it was a Republican president who ended slavery. But that was no real social change.

      1. Whenever Republicans say “a Republican president ended slavery” they forget to mention that Abe’s Republican Party would be, in modern terms, the Democratic Party.

  4. This post read like a pretentious rant from an indy music fan that looks down upon anyone who discovered a band after they did. “I’ve loved Gay Marriage since they were playing in front of 20 people on a Tuesday night in the Village, posers!”

  5. Since no one’s defending Jeff Pearlman, I’ll jump in: he’s absolutely right. This is a longstanding trend among GOP politicians: they only discover empathy when it affectes people close to them. Hence Pete Domenici favoring government mandates for mental health coverage, because he had someone in his family who suffered from mental illness – but for everyone else, caveat emptor! Let the free market rip and devil take the hindmost! An extremely smart writer, Mark Schmitt, has termed this “Miss America conservatism” and Jeff P. has nailed its application to this scenario.

  6. Jeff,

    Change is not easy for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re born into Christianity, “The South” or whatever. There’s no rule book to follow that guarantees people can or will change their beliefs. I’m just happy the senator figured it out.

    I’m also glad that one of my congressman figured out that war was bad. It took him decades and a couple of deaths to proud American warriors from his district to bring the issue home, but like Mr. Portman, Rep. Bill Young did figure it out.

    If only we could all be perfect.

  7. Everybody (except Brendan) ripping Jeff- it’s delightful. Do you people realize his son came out to him TWO YEARS AGO? Yeah, he would have kept his amazing change of heart to himself just for political gain. Thanks, dad!

    Doesn’t matter if Portman would have “dug in more”; him and his ilk are on borrowed time. We’ll look back on this the same way we do with the race/segregation issue of the past. He only “took a stand” because it effected HIM- some “courage”.

    Hey Jason- how’s your gay family member vote? Just curious.

    Jeff, you got it correct. Keep up the great posts.

  8. I think your vitriol here is misplaced. If the recent steady advance on gay rights is to continue, it must necessarily include people who currently honestly believe homosexuality is a sin/a choice/an abhorrence, etc. changing their minds. The best way to accomplish that is what has been happening over the past twenty plus years: the rest of us making sure that our friends, relatives, co-workers, etc. feel comfortable acknowledging who they are. When that happens, more and more people realize that someone they love and respect is gay. It puts a human face on an abstraction and forces opponents to confront the impact of their views. I celebrate Portman’s change of heart and would welcome in to the pro-gay marriage fold anyone else who has similar epiphany, no matter how long or loudly they argued in opposition. We’re all wrong about some things, what matters is when presented with the opportunity to see the error of our ways, we do.

    P.S. Marriage is one of the police powers, left exclusively to the individual states. There will never be a federal law allowing gay marriage, that would be an unconstitutional intrusion on the rights of the states and is the sort of thing this Supreme Court has roundly rejected. DOMA only touches upon those few federal aspects of marriage (e.g., citizenship), most of laws relating to marriage (e.g., inheritance, healthcare proxies, etc.) are state laws. The most you can hope for is a ruling from the Supreme Court that state laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional intrusions on the Equal Protection clause.

  9. Like you Jeff I am of mixed emotions on this.
    1. It is great that he has changed his stance.
    2. Why does the Republican Party have so much trouble doing the right thing unless it becomes personal to them?
    In the GOP there is no care or empathy for others, only for themselves and the individuals they love.

    1. Once again, the hypocracy of the left is unbelievable. JMW, you seem to be a christian, but are still a democrat, the protectors of such things as ABORTION! For you it’s ok if some doctor (one who undoubtedly profits greatly by performing them) says “bah, babies aren’t real people until they take their first breath”. But for someone to see the light, realize by whatever means that gay marriage isn’t right to fight against after all, you cite the MSNBC view of things. What a tool. I’m a conservative, I do care about people, including gays and unborn babies. Jeff, Did you ever see a 3D ultrasound picture of your son or daughter before they were born? Would you have allowed your wife to kill them after seeing that, or at least given the thumbs up? You’re no better than Portman, a human being who may need a smack in the face to see the light. One of the great things about being a christian is forgiveness, did either of you see the father of one of the Ohio HS football players asking people to forgive his son today? Heart wrenching, and I will definately forgive him.

      1. Once again the spelling of the right is unbe-leeeevable. But don’t worry, Doug, you had me convinced when you spelled abortion in all caps. The ineluctable logic of your position was manifest at that point.

      2. You make great points there. My typing skills suck, care to take a crack at something a little more substancial? Are you the same guy who ripped me over typos and sounding like a second grader a couple years ago? I’d like to hear your defense of ABORTION, your critique of my spelling/typing is noted. If spelling and typing is your only issue, I will work on that.

      3. Doug I am Pro Life.
        I am also not a Democrat. Though in this last election I voted D all the way down because I am sick and tired of the nutcases and lunatics that have taken over the Republican party.
        We had Huckabee claiming a vote for Obama was a vote for the fire of Hell.
        We had pastors claiming the vote was between a Mormon or a Muslim.
        We had Trump and his birther crap.
        We have the Gun cult claiming Obama wants to take all guns away.
        Now we have Santorum claiming Obama wants a Godless America.
        Through all this we have had few Republicans stand up and say ENOUGH! No More lies!
        The first time Obama ran I was prepared to vote for McCain because he had the balls to call the Swift boaters on their lie and point out Kerry WAS an American hero. (Palin made me not vote for President at all)
        Now even McCain has been neutered.
        If this was an abortion issue you might have something of value to say. This is not an abortion issue and your words only tell me you have nothing relative to say.
        You will do the Party line even when the line is filled with hate.

      4. Doug, protector of life, how many children have you adopted? How many foster care kids are in your home as we speak?


  10. Kevin, you make some very good points, but I’d argue that advance on >other< issues may well require calling people out when they're unable to see the need for progress/change in areas in which they haven't been personally affected. Is Sen. Portman closely related to anyone whose unemployment has run out and has looked everywhere but can't find work? Is he closely related to anyone who's been declared an enemy combatant and held indefinitely without charges? I think posts like Jeff's are a legitimate way to push him to extend his empathy beyond his immediate household.

  11. Ah, the compassionate, enlightened, evolving, super-empathetic members of the progressive left; Mr. Pearlman is a perfect representative of their clan. Of course, his morally and intellectually superior tolerance applies only to those who — surprise! — agree with him and his nuanced, Pelosian world view. That is: religion bad. Abortion good. Government good. Guns bad. Sarah Palin, idiot; Joe Biden, Churchillian statesman. Water boarding, Geneva convention shredding bad. Transformative President Drone Killer, just groovy. Those who oppose gay marriage on moral or religious grounds, hateful; those who actually stone gays to death on religious grounds, um … well, let’s hope they evolve like the President.

    I did enjoy this classic non sequitur from Mr. Pearlman: so, you claim you want to protect life? Yeah, well how many kids have you adopted? How many foster care kids are in your home?

    Wow. That was Olberman-esque in its thunderous asininity. As the Gore-bot might say: the debate is over! Here, let’s try some more of the Pearlman method:

    So, you claim you’re a feminist, huh? Well, how many birth control pills have you purchased for Sandra Fluke, so she can have casual sex between “The Living Transgendered Constitution” classes? Riiiight.

    So, you claim you’re against murder? How many Gun Free Zone signs are hanging in your laundry room? How many “Coexist” bumper stickers are on your Prius? Riiiight.

    So, you claim you were a fan of Walter Payton? Why’d you cheer when Ditka handed off to the Fridge in the Super Bowl?

    As other commentators have noted, behind all the high-minded, self-congratulatory empathy and welcoming, big-tent, multi-culti pap is a dead-eyed, contemptuous and vitriolic intolerance for anyone who doesn’t sing from the Progressive Hymnal. When I disagree with my many liberal friends, I tell them I believe they are wrong. When most of my liberal friends disagree with me — a la Mr. Pearlman — they tell me I’m some kind of noxious ‘Phobe, or racist, or the hell-spawn of Dick Cheney’s Nazi genetic experimentation labs. There’s really no point in debating anything with someone who starts from the default position that you are evil or a reprehensible moral troglodyte.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy the blog, and Mr. Pearlman is a talented writer. The Payton biography was outstanding, and I truly hope his forthcoming book is a success.

      1. Jeff: there’s (way) more to life than politics. Heck, if Carville and Matalin can live under the same roof, then we all should be able to compartmentalize our ideological differences. You and I will probably never see eye to eye on a whole bunch of issues, but that won’t prevent me from admiring your writing, or enjoying your blog. And, from time to time, I may register my hopefully respectful (albeit probably sarcastic, sorry — congenital condition) disagreement with some of your more egregiously Maddow-esque views.

        Best to you and your family,


  12. If Portman’s son came out of the closet 2 years ago, wasn’t that the time he was running for Senate in Ohio????
    I wonder why that got buried under the rug?
    Wasn’t Portman on Romney’s shortlist for VP in 2012?
    Isn’t Ohio a swing state?
    The timing of the “announcement” is rather convenient, isn’t it?

  13. For every Portman, you also have people like Matt Salmon from Arizona, who refuse to ever change:

    The point about Portman is that he was completely backwards in his thinking until it affected him personally. If he was a normal, reasonably compassionate person who actually cared about anybody else, it would not have taken him so long.

    Someone like Salmon will be an idiot forever.

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