What Rob Portman Means For Parents

Rob Portman, Will PortmanAs a gay man, I’ve always felt like parents were my enemy — politically, at least.

Whenever someone felt it necessary to identify themselves as a parent in a debate about gay rights, it was almost always as a shield for their homophobia. The gays they talked about were coming to get their kids, convert them to homosexuality, teach them about sodomy in schools. We were boogeymen Karl Rove could use to manipulate paranoid moms and dads into voting his way.

The term “family values” seemed designed specifically to exclude those of us at the wrong end of the Kinsey scale. Our values, it barely needed to be said, were distinctly anti-family.

This is what’s so significant about Rob Portman’s change of heart on gay marriage. A family values conservative, a co-sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, has acknowledged that treating gay people equally is a family value. He did so suddenly and decisively, without “evolving” or obfuscating the way many other politicians do. Why? Because he was able to present his reversal as something deeper than a mere political calculation. It was a gesture of love from a father to his son.

Portman certainly didn’t have to change his position. When his son Will came out to him, he could’ve supported him privately, while publicly pandering to his constituency. He wouldn’t be the first politician to do so.

What Portman’s reversal seems to signify is a broader change in thinking. No longer are gays seen as “others” out to hurt our kids. Now, gays are our kids, and moms and dads are the ones with the potential to hurt them. Gays aren’t the monsters anymore. Parents who turn their backs on their children are.

Portman has taken a lot of criticism for not supporting gay marriage until it affected his own son. It’s a fair point, but it misses the bigger victory in this story, which is that now, fewer people might need a gay son or daughter to change their mind on this issue, because anyone can see their own family in Rob Portman’s. Anyone can imagine their own kid as the next Will Portman. Nobody wants their kid to be the next Tyler Clementi.

Even more importantly, what Portman’s shift signals is that politicians no longer feel beholden to the image of the gay boogeyman. It’s not that family values no longer matter to voters. It’s that more voters than ever acknowledge that gays are part of our families. According to Buzzfeed, representatives from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage spoke to a nearly empty room at CPAC this week, while a panel on increasing tolerance in the GOP was standing room-only.

The message Rob Portman’s action sends couldn’t be clearer: supporting same-sex marriage is good parenting. Increasingly, it’s good politics, too.

36 comments on “What Rob Portman Means For Parents

  1. I guess I’m what’s known as a fiscal conservative & social liberal. I usually vote a straight Democratic ticket even though here in my “Red State” that pretty much means a throw away vote. Still I like to think it is a vote that is needed more here than “bluer” states. Wouldn’t that be something if the GOP would start embracing MY values (besides the financial issues) & really give me a choice at the polls?

    • I think more and more, you’ll be getting your wish. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Republican to be elected president (granted, it may be a few years) is pro-marriage equality.

    • Sounds like you’re a Libertarian! Look into it (and Senator Rand Paul for that matter). I like voting Libertarian also because the two party system just isn’t working for anyone anymore.

  2. The day that people don’t need a politician to pave the way before they dare to refuse bigotry and inequality, I’ll be there to applaud. I wish people would dare to think for themselves rather than repeat all the rubbish that they are force-fed. I saw a very conservative 100 year-old granny revise her views on homosexuality and welcome her grandson’s partner with open arms. If she managed it, there’s hope…. As for the gay bogeyman…. I’ve seen straight parents who are much scarier and were certainly not well placed to say what being a good parent is about.

  3. I love this, Jerry. Very well said. I’m always amazed at how rapidly things have changed in my lifetime. I remember being warned about homosexuals as a child, which made it very confusing when I realized I was attracted to guys. I knew I wasn’t this monster they were all describing, so how then could I be gay? I was very touched and deeply amused when our very butch son said to me a couple of weeks ago, in response to my question about what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said, “Gay, just like you and Papa.” I had to break the news that that’s one of the few things we don’t get to choose, but wished him luck.

    • William, that is an AWESOME story. It really needs to be a blog post. I mean, it’s the nightmare of the people who don’t think gays should be raising parents, but as a fellow gay dad, it really warmed my heart.

      • Just saw that footage of the HuffPost Live panel we were on. I was mortified. Looked like I was about to pass out and fall out of the frame. Lesson learned: never videoconference with the flu. Especially when all America is just a click away. And call me Bill.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jerry. I feel like the lesson learned from all of this can get muddled in politics, but you express my thoughts quite well.

  5. Hi Jerry

    So I guess going forward  what its going to take is: every gReedpublican (that’s what I call them) will have to have a gay child, cousin, nephew, aunt, uncle, sister or brother in order to *change their antiquated, narrow- minded views about gay people.

    *Newt Gingrich and sharp shooter *Dick Cheney 

    As usual – great article.

    See you at the wedding.

    xoxoxoxox

    Marsha

     

  6. I applaud him for his realization that LGBT doesn’t = the devil. It takes a brave person to admit that their stance was wrong.

    I think more people are starting to realize that the family dynamic will always evolve and change. Single parent families, multi-racial families and blended families were once frowned upon too. Soon enough people will understand that the only thing that matters about the family unit is that it’s a positive unit.

    Sort of related but not really: one thing I’ve never understood about DOMA. According to the Bible, the only ground for divorce is adultery. Only 17% of marriages in the US end in adultery. Why aren’t they defending those marriages that are ending?

    • While researching a No on Prop 8 video I was making before it ended up becoming law, a video from the point of view of kids with gay parents — kids who weren’t being considered in all this when they’d be the ones affected most, my research led me to discover that the “ideal family” the other side was promoting as the only acceptable model — never-divorced parents raising biological children — constituted only 17% of California’s entire population. I’m surprised more wasn’t made of that. Luckily, families no longer have to resemble the homogenous model TV portrayed in the 50s. The undergarments alone would have killed me.

  7. “According to Buzzfeed, representatives from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage spoke to a nearly empty room at CPAC this week, while a panel on increasing tolerance in the GOP was standing room-only.”

    It has been a long, long time since I read a sentence that gave me as much hope for the future of country as this one did.

  8. You know, I was just having a discussion the other day with someone who was curious as to why I posted the link to your piece on how to talk to your kids about gay parents on my blog the other week. She was trying to understand my view on gay parenting as a modern day Catholic. Plainly and simply, I did it because that IS what Jesus would do, and thankfully, my own experience with Catholicism has been one that fosters love above anything else. One of the fundamental lessons of the Bible that is repeated over, and over, and over, and over, and over again is LOVE. Not selective love, but inclusive love. I see no good coming out of me teaching my children that a family with gay parents is anything but acceptable and part of the wide array of normal in the world today. The same goes for different races, religions, economic or intelligence levels, disabilities, and cultures. If people are good, and good to each other, leave them be. Or better yet, be open to a friendship. It is easier to accept differences when we are directly affected, though I still applaud Portman for having the courage to do what a lot of politicians avoid like the plague: disagree with a party platform. Hopefully we can work on raising a new generation who are able to accept differences even before they are directly affected by them. And honestly, I do think that is happening. A little bit at a time. Politicians are usually the last ones to catch onto things, so the fact that some are means one thing for sure: they ebb and flow to wherever the votes are, so there must be enough constituents on the right track!

  9. I can’t quite wrap my head around why people find it so hard to be tolerant unless someone near to them is involved. Is it so difficult to try to put yourself in the shoes of someone you are about to condemn even though you don’t know him or someone like him?

    I don’t want to diminish the courage it took Rob Portman to publicly change his mind (not to mention the courage it took Will to come out in light of his father’s stance and standing), he wouldn’t have been the first person to betray his own son rather than his principles. Still, I wish some of those hate mongers would use their imagination sometimes and act as though they had a gay son.

    • This is something I struggle with too. I have always been a very empathetic person, but I’ve come to learn that not everyone is.

  10. While I’m certainly happy with his decision and the messages it will send, I am a bit more cynical about this. Let’s not forget that Sen. Rob Portman actively worked to deny equal rights to gay people, then decided that it wasn’t in his self-interest to be a bigot when the issue affected him personally, but he waited two years after his son came out to announce his change of heart because he was being considered for the VP spot on the Republican ticket, and well, his career still came before his son (this last bit cribbed from a friend, who happens to be gay). Now that the possibility of a VP spot has passed, now that the political tide has turned on the issue, with every vote coming out in favor of same-sex marriage in the last election, Sen. Portman decided the time was right to publically support gay marriage. I don’t deny that he had the change of heart because of his son, and by all accounts he loves his son very much, but I think this was a political move more so than a “gesture of love.” That said, I do hope it makes others (esp. Republicans) think differently about the issue, and realize that “family values” equals gay family values. And I hope it makes Sen. Portman question whether, if he was wrong about this issue, maybe he’s also been wrong about some of the other socially conservative/bigoted viewpoints he has espoused over the years, even those that don’t directly effect a member of his family.

  11. While I’m certainly happy with his decision and the messages it will send, I am a bit more cynical about this. Let’s not forget that Sen. Rob Portman actively worked to deny equal rights to gay people, then decided that it wasn’t in his self-interest to be a bigot when the issue affected him personally, but he waited two years after his son came out to announce his change of heart because he was being considered for the VP spot on the Republican ticket, and well, his career still came before his son (this last bit cribbed from a friend, who happens to be gay). Now that the possibility of a VP spot has passed, now that the political tide has turned on the issue, with every vote coming out in favor of same-sex marriage in the last election, Sen. Portman decided the time was right to publically support gay marriage. I don’t deny that he had the change of heart because of his son, and by all accounts he loves his son very much, but I think this was a political move more so than a “gesture of love.” That said, I do hope it makes others (esp. Republicans) think differently about the issue, and realize that “family values” equals gay family values. And I hope it makes Sen. Portman question whether, if he was wrong about this issue, maybe he’s also been wrong about some of the other socially conservative/bigoted viewpoints he has espoused over the years, even those that don’t directly effect a member of his family.

  12. Leaving the poliltics out of it, I am glad that this father supports his son. Imagine the courage it took his son to come out to someone who had so vehemently and publicly spoken out against, basically, their own child. As far as whether the father is doing it for any other reason – I still am glad for his son.

  13. I read about Rob Portman’s change of heart recently, as well as the over 100 Republican politicians who signed onto a referendum to the US Supreme Court against Proposition 8. I do hope and believe that more and more, Republicans will see that they are on a “sinking ship” on the wrong side of history and will not wish to be the last to ditch it, or to go down with it.

  14. Excellent post, and blog and general, I look forward to every new read! Like Juliet M, I’m a little cynical when it comes to Sen. Portman’s decision. More and more Republicans realize they are on a sinking ship in terms of their social agenda, therefore more and more Republicans are reversing their positions to remain employable. I have no doubt the Senator has truly come to a new understanding thanks to his love for his son, but our leaders need to have more vision than that. All too often, we hear a politician changing course on a subject only after they’ve been directly affected. Why can’t they pull their heads out of their pocketbooks and make these empathetic leaps simply because it’s the right thing to do for all people, not just for their own families? He deserves to be applauded for this, but it also needs to be said loud and clear that our “leaders” have to have the vision and compassion to help all people, not just their own.

  15. As a parent …. the fact that the concept of “gay rights” exists is utterly abhorrent to me!

    The fact that we live in a society where working for gay rights is necessary is shameful. I can usually see both sides of an argument and I have had several (sometimes heated) discussions with those with contrary views to mine on gay rights and, try as I might, I just can’t see any merit whatsoever in what these anti-gay loonies say.

    I strongly feel that my son should have the same rights as anybody else regardless of his sexuality. Its a little hard to tell at the moment given that he is only 3 weeks old but I reckon the dice is already cast genetically.

    Would I be a bit sad if he was gay? Yes, because he will have to contend with idiots making his life harder than it should be. Would I be ashamed? Hell no!

  16. It seems to me that this story illustrates accountability for politicians. Too often, they make decisions with thinking, REALLY imagining, how it will affect their constituents. As humans, we all do this, but they’re representing a lot of us humans and it’s a good perspective check for them to feel what others are feeling.

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