Don't Give Rob Portman a Free Pass

Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/
Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Days before the Supreme Court hears arguments on the Defense Of Marriage Act, the gay rights movement has gained a powerful, and certainly unlikely, ally.

Rob Portman, a conservative senator from Ohio, recently announced that he has reversed his longheld stance against gay marriage.

The reason for this change of heart: his son.

In a column published in the Columbus Dispatch this morning, Portman wrote:

As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way. Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay.
Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

Rob Portman is a good father for changing his view on this issue so that he may support the rights of his son. But the fact that he was only able to feel empathy for the plight of gay people in this country -- a plight that he for decades actively contributed to based on his voting record -- only after the issue directly affected him, is definitive proof that he is an unfit politician.

Senator Portman wants to make this country a better place for his college-aged son, but as recently as 2011, he wasn't moved to reconsider his views when hundreds of students at the University of Michigan actively protested his commencement speech because of his long history of opposing gay marriage.

As a high-serving member in a representative democracy, Mr. Portman shouldn't have to be personally inspired in order to see an issue from a perspective other than his own.

This is a win for the gay rights movement, and yet another blow against the quickly fading opposition to gay marriage -- a recently published poll from Quinnipiac University indicated that even the majority of Catholics in the U.S. are now in support -- but my only hope is that this change of heart makes Senator Portman look introspectively at many more views he holds.

"We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people's lives," Portman wrote in his opinion piece.

That's a very interesting statement from a man with a vehement anti-abortion record and who has a strong anti-civil rights voting record (as dictated by the ACLU).

Are both these things grounded in Portman's inability to view issues from a broader perspective?

It's a troubling thought, especially considering his respected stature in Congress.

Would he be against the Affordable Care Act if a close friend or family member had lost their life savings attempting to pay for cancer treatment?

Would he have been in favor of invading Iraq in 2002 and then opposed a timetable for troop withdrawal in 2010 if one of his sons was on the front lines?

My challenge to Senator Portman is this: Sit down and truly evaluate every belief you hold and determine why you hold it because your decisions are much bigger than you.

Once again, on an individual level, I find Senator Portman's support for his son admirable and his decision to publicly reverse a long-held stance brave. But as citizens, we would be mistaken to greet his change of heart with a pat on the back as opposed to a scrutinous eye.