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Ohio GOP Sen. Ron Portman announces support for marriage equality

DOMA Repeal Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

In an opinion piece published yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced his support for marriage equality, writing, “if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.”

In his piece, Portman specifically cited his gay son, Will, as one of the central reasons he had changed his position:

“Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.


“I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples. As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.”

Portman, the first sitting Republican Senator to endorse marriage equality and speak out against the Defense of Marriage Act, has been a steady opponent of equal marriage rights in the past.  He was a co-sponsor of DOMA in 1996 and supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have written a ban on marriages for same-sex couples into the U.S. Constitution.  In 1999, he supported a bill that would have prohibited same-sex couples from adopting.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Portman chose to announce his new position at this time because the Supreme Court will consider oral arguments in the Prop 8 and Windsor DOMA cases later this month and he anticipated being asked questions regarding the court cases.

He has no plans to sign onto legal briefs in the cases, including the one that more than 100 prominent Republicans filed in the Prop 8 case arguing for nationwide marriage equality.  Among the signatories to that brief were Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, both of whom support the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Portman’s announcement means that there is now bipartisan support for marriage equality and against DOMA in both houses of Congress.  What remains to be seen is whether the senator will endorse other LGBT-related legislation.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, Portman is unlikely to take a “leadership role” if Ohio moves to overturn its 2004 constitutional ban on marriage equality.

It is also unclear at this point whether he will join the Respect for Marriage Act as a co-sponsor, or if he will endorse ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect LGBT Americans from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  As recently as last summer, Portman reiterated his opposition to ENDA in response to a question from ThinkProgress:

“What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written….  A lot of them would create a lot of legal rights of action that would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable, to be able to hire, and to keep this economy moving.”

During that interview, Portman did say that “no one should discriminate.”

You can watch a video below of an interview between Sen. Portman and CNN’s Dana Bash on the senator’s new support for marriage equality.


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