Portman and Gay Marriage

So Rob Portman’s son comes out as gay, and Portman changes his mind on gay marriage. Lots of fun snark around this, of course: “Eventually one of these Republican congressmen is going to find out his daughter is a woman, and then we’re all set.” (Something to this, it turns out.) “Let’s hope Portman’s kid has trouble finding affordable healthcare.”

Yes, as a moral stance reconsidering your principles only when they hurt you personally isn’t especially impressive. Jonathan Chait asks, “But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about what’s good for all of us, rather than what’s good for himself and the people he knows?” And no one answers. Since no Republican officeholder expects to become poor, let alone black or undocumented, they will continue in good conscience to back policies are horrible for poor, black, and undocumented people, unless they think it will cost them votes. (The Onion to the contrary notwithstanding, none of their kids will die for lack of health coverage. Note that Portman doesn’t seem to have changed his mind about job discrimination against gays.)

Still, I’ll take what I can get. Maybe his son’s coming-out genuinely drove Portman to re-examine his conscience, or maybe it provided an easy way for Portman to make a move necessary if he wants to win enough Millennial votes to capture the White House, while cushioning the blow to social conservatives.

One thing you can bet the ranch on: it wouldn’t have happened ten years ago, and it won’t be necessary ten years from now. In the meantime, celebrate!

Footnote I’m glad to see Newt Gingrich holding fast to his position that marriage is between one man and one woman … after another.

[Originally posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.