Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), once on the short list of running mates for Mitt Romney, previously supported both the Defense of Marriage Act and a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Two years ago, his son came out to him as gay. Thursday night, he publicly announced a change of heart, now supporting same-sex marriage.
This is not the first time a child of a prominent Republican politician has been openly gay. Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary was openly gay throughout her father’s political career and legally married her long-time partner last June. However, it is the first time a Republican Senator has supported marriage equality.
Portman has taken the national stage to articulate why he changed his position. Portman told reporters, “It allowed me to think of this from a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years.”
In an op-ed, he wrote of how he came to reconcile his faith and conservatism with his views on gay marriage.
“We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society.”
Portman’s announcement certainly shakes up the national debate on marriage equality, but does he deserve a high-five or the side-eye?
There’s a difference between tolerance and acceptance. As LGBQ advocate Ash Beckham explains, tolerance is the act of allowing or putting up with something. Acceptance on the other hand is to regard something as proper, normal, or inevitable, and to recognize something to be true. “Tolerance is when the school district allows you to bring your same-sex date to prom. Acceptance is when your classmates don’t whisper and laugh when you dance. The difference is tremendous.”
Although the issue of same-sex marriage is (arguably) more complicated than high school prom, the same principles apply. Here, although he has announced his own support for same-sex marriage, he told reporters “he doesn’t want to force his views on others.” He is now tolerating gay marriage but his reluctance to use his position to advocate or to create real and meaningful change demonstrates his lack of acceptance. He claims he “wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love” and believes “all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage,” but has declined to sponsor such claims and to champion for such rights.
I give Portman the side-eye, not because his new stance on gay marriage may have been self-serving or hypocritical, but because his support for gay marriage is empty and hollow. Until Portman doesn’t just voice support for gay marriage but starts fighting for it, I’ll keep my hands to myself.