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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let there be no cheers for Rob Portman.

The Ohio senator is, pardon the tautology, a conservative Republican and last week, he did something conservative Republicans do not do. He came out for same-sex marriage. This is a man whose anti-gay bona fides were so pronounced that his 2011 selection as commencement speaker at the University of Michigan law school prompted an uproar among the graduates, many of whom signed a letter protesting his appearance as an insult to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Yet, there he was, telling CNN he’s had “a change of heart.” And what prompted this? Well, as it turns out, the senator made his U-turn because of Will.

That would be Will Portman, 21, who came out to his parents two years ago. His son, the senator said, explained to them that his sexuality “was not a choice and that that’s just part of who he is.” As a result, said Portman, “I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years.”

It was, make no mistake, an act of paternal love and empathy and deserves to be celebrated on that basis. He did the only thing a good father could have done. And yet, if Portman’s change of mind warms the heart, it also, paradoxically, illustrates the moral cowardice so often found at the heart of social conservatism.

Look, the senator’s son is doubtless a fine and admirable young man. But with all due respect to his son, to heck with his son. This is not about Will Portman. It’s far bigger than that.

So one can’t help but be frustrated and vexed by the senator’s inability to “get it” until “it” included his son. Will explained to him that his sexuality “was not a choice”? Lovely. But was the senator not listening when all those other gay men and lesbians tried to tell him the exact same thing?

Apparently not. Like Dick Cheney, father of a lesbian daughter, Portman changed his view because the issue became personal. Which suggests a glaring lack of the courage and vision needed to put oneself into someone else’s shoes, imagine one’s way inside someone else’s life. These are capabilities that often seem to elude social conservatives.

Small wonder: If you allow yourself to see the world from someone else’s vantage point, there is a chance it will change your own. Can’t have that.

So instead we have this. And by extension of the “logic”: Here, we must wait on Herman Cain to adopt a Mexican child before he sees how offensive it is to suggest electrocuting Mexicans at the border. And if Michele Bachmann would only have an affair with a Muslim, she might stop seeing terrorists on every street corner.

Tellingly, Portman’s change of heart elicited mainly an embarrassed silence from his ideological soulmates who, 10 years ago, would have been on him like paparazzi on a Kardashian. But then, 10 years ago, gay rights was still an open question. Ten years later, that question is closing with startling speed, as in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds support for same-sex marriage at a record high. Change is coming, gathering momentum like an avalanche.

And once again, conservatives will stand rebuked by history, be left on the platform by progress. Or else, split the difference, do the right thing for the wrong reasons like Rob Portman.

No, you cannot condemn a man for loving his child.

But true compassion and leadership require the ability to look beyond the narrow confines of one’s own life, to project into someone else’s situation and to want for them what you’d want for your own. Portman’s inability to do that created hardship for an untold number of gay men and lesbians.

Each of them was also someone’s child.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

  • sigrid28

    When Rob Portman was being evaluated to become Mitt Romney’s choice as a running mate, he already knew and loved his son who is gay. The VP position on the Republican ticket would not have been on the table if Rob Portman had decided to do the right thing as soon as he knew his son was gay. What are we to assume about that? Did he withhold his support for the rights of citizenship for the LGBT community until it was expedient to disclose it? If so, it was an act of characteristic Republican cronyism. Did he do so only because his own son is gay? If so, it was an act of characteristic Republican nepotism. He is still the sort of running mate a Mitt Romney might pick: submissive to the demands of cronyism and nepotism, two pillars of the Republican party, at the expense of everyone else–even his constituents.

    • angelsinca

      Good comment Sig. But it’s a bit disturbing that both the article and your summary use the parental outing as cause to rip into the Govenor further with deepening suspicions of treachery. WTF? In other words, really it’s OK to applaud the man without pausing to criticise him and Romney and republicans and conservations with more pedestrian derragatory theory.

      • sigrid28

        One person’s expediency is another person’s “treachery,” your word not mine. When Rob Portman decided to hold public office he did so in the full consciousness that his candidacy put his motives up to the mirror of public scrutiny. Writers for and posters on the “National Memo” uphold the rights of the Fourth Estate to perform that function. Free speech doesn’t perform its function in a democracy if the media treat it primarily as an applause meter or merely as a cover for lying and cheating whenever we think it will allow us to get what we want. Furthermore, qualified judgments are part and parcel of a healthy society in which compromise is a priority. Would that more Republican senators (and representatives, for that matter) will find whatever excuse suits them–now and in the future–to do the right thing.

        • angelsinca

          Well written Sig…thanks for the thoughtful comment. Couldn’t agree more about the exercise of free speech. But in this case, the article has one purpose; the annihilation of the right leaning senator by using his moment of honesty to flog him for being dishonest. It isn’t clear that he’s being criticized for being a liar and cheat though. Instead, it seems he’s being punished for his partisan ties. The fourth estate isn’t exercising free speech for anything more than simple party bashing. If that’s the point, Ok, I get it. I’ll look for those seeds of a healthier society elsewhere.

          • sigrid28

            I was mistaken for a moment and thought you asserted that Rob Portman was “being punished for his partisan lies,” but you said “ties.” How difficult it is to defend legitimate discourse when supporting the political party and the branch of media that will not be “dictated to by fact checkers.” No wonder you think Portmen should be praised to the skies for finally saying something that he purports to be the truth, or maybe he’s just saying something to gain attention and votes but does not actually believe what he says. How would you, in your “healthier society,” sort that out? You might have to look beyond what Rob Portman says and examine his past record, his former statements, and the actions he takes in the future based on what he CLAIMS to be a “change of heart.” That process requires research and critical thinking, indispensable components of public discourse and both vital functions performed by the Fourth Estate in a thriving democracy that fully embraces the right to freedom of speech. Among Republicans and on Fox News, this process may indeed be called “party bashing,” but that doesn’t make it so.

          • angelsinca

            I don’t think Portman should be ‘praised to the skies’. That’s an exaggeration. The sorting out is simple if the defualt reaction isn’t always suspicion and doubt. The man has a change of heart on gay marriage. You seem to believe non-acceptance of that position is justified because a lot of effort was put into creating reasons not to accept the position. That’s a long way to go to justify being unforgiving. The fourth estate seems to have failed its responsibility when it enters a dialog for the sole purpose of protecting its own positions.

          • sigrid28

            You forget that it was not EVER the wish of the Fourth Estate that Portman should or should not support LGBT rights. Portman said he was against it, and has a voting record in opposition. Now he says he respects the rights of LGBT citizens but has yet to take any action. His loyalty is untested by any measure, even the most forgiving.

            The role of the Fourth Estate is not to take positions of its own or to protect positions (except in the world inside the Fox News bubble). Its role is to report the positions of politicians who want our votes and to scrutinize these positions when a candidate says one thing but has for years and years been opposing a newly “held” position. The media has no responsibility with regard to being forgiving or unforgiving with respect to people who put themselves in the public eye and ask voters to entrust them with a role in governance, which can have life and death consequences. You criticize the Fourth Estate for taking its role seriously, while at the same time holding it to a very low standard.

    • RobertCHastings

      You should replace the word “cronyism” with the word “hypocrisy”. Portman knew about his son’s sexual orientation (and the fact that it is not a “choice”) at least two years before he was being considered for the vice-presidency. In true Republican fashion, he valued his political standing more than he valued even his own child and the constituents he served.

      • sigrid28

        I might have used “hypocrisy” to describe Portman’s decision to conceal his son’s sexual orientation and his own opinion about it. I used “cronyism” instead to refer to Portman’s decision to support the party’s position, through votes and commentary, despite the fact of his son’s identity. I guess I find Republican group think (which I characterize as “cronyism”) more damaging to the LGBT community, minorities, and women than the garden variety hypocrisy of individual Republican senators and representatives,though–you are right–this hypocrisy, too, has far-reaching consequences.

  • Michael Kollmorgen

    Yes, his decision was correct. And, yes, for the wrong reason.

    This actually reeks of political gamesmanship.

    Watch and see, you’re going to see more Republicans coming out supporting gay rights ONLY because it is in their political interest to do so, maybe especially those who are fence-sitting right now and stand to loose in the next election cycle.

    It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to be the next Paper Tiger.

  • disinterestedcanadian

    When someone changes the position on what has been for them a long held point of view, it is often because they have been deeply affected at a personal level, as is the case for Rob Portman. Isn’t it enough that he has changed his point of view? Do the reasons really matter? The response from the left has been to say the very least, ungracious. Let’s just welcome him back from the dark side and be done with it.

    • charleo1

      My opinion is, at the end of the day, you’re right. We should applaud Senator Portman for embracing a reality that had heretofore been beyond his experience,
      as a person to grasp. Believe me when I say, as a parent who’s daughter
      came out a number of years ago, Senator Portman is just getting started.
      He will come to see Legislation he voted for, like DOMA, not as a Government
      protecting the institution of marriage, but as Government going beyond it’s
      bounds to enshrine by law, the denial of Civil Rights to millions of it’s citizens.
      He will become painfully aware of the disrespect shown to his Son on an
      almost daily basis. In ways both subtle, and like a sledge hammer. He will learn
      the number of States having discriminatory laws, what those laws are, and how
      those laws will hurt both his Son, his Son’s life partner. And, he will become
      aware, America does not grant the freedom to all it’s citizens to pursue their
      happiness. And he will come to know, when Americans must leave America for
      the freedom to adopt his Grandchildren into as loving a home, to as responsible
      of parents as any other family. As his own family. He will demand this injustice
      be eliminated. So, good for Senator Portman! Let it be from the Left. yes, the
      Liberals, that he finds acceptance. His own will not be as kind. But, let’s also
      acknowledge the question his change of heart begs. If his Son were uninsurable,
      would he be more in favor of healthcare reform? If he was poor, and had a
      Daughter. Would he see more value in keeping Planned Parenthood clinics
      open? Would he tell his own Party, access to a doctor, for poor children, is just as important as the millions of dollars given to corporations, so they can more cheaply have a Lear, Jet? That is the question for Senator Portman. Must it

      affect his life in such a personal way, for him to care about the plights he
      will never have?

      • sigrid28

        Exactly.

      • RobertCHastings

        Excellent post. Thank you.

    • Sorry. In my opinion, equality under the law is a right, no matter whose child you are. Neither I nor any of my children is gay, yet I and millions of others are able to understand that legal discrimination hurts people. I am happy for Portman’s son, now that he is able to be honest with his father, but have no patience for bigots who only have tolerance for their own.

      • disinterestedcanadian

        Like I said, ungracious. Some are born in the light, like you. Some have to be brought to the light, like me. It’s almost as if you would prefer him to remain a bigot so you can flog him with it. I can hear it now: “How can you remain opposed to gay marriage, even though you have a gay son?”

        • RobertCHastings

          Portman would not be the first to do so. Nor will he be the last to do as he has done for political expediency. Bear in mind that it has NOT been just recently that his son revealed his orientation to the governor. Why, then, does Portman come to the light now?

    • Michael Kollmorgen

      I hope his son, being gay, has dramatically affected his stance on gay rights in general for everyone else. He says it has.

      I somehow don’t believe him. Yes, we need to dig in further why he is supportive. I take nothing for granted anything a Republican says or does. There is usually some hidden motive behind it.

      I think it’s mostly politics.

      • RobertCHastings

        I agree with you.

    • RobertCHastings

      Yes, the reasons DO matter, greatly. Portman knew of hisson’s sexual orientation LONG before his recent announcement, and LONG before his being considered on Romney’s short list. NOW it has become politically expedient to have an epiphany, for the Republicans NEED people who will sucker in those who have been excluded by the angry white heterosexual men who run the party.

      • Michael Kollmorgen

        Well, Portman might not have known his son was gay until the very last moment his son admitted it. People can hide this for years.

        My companion has been gay all his life but his father never knew it. The only time, he carried out anything pertaining to gay was when his father left to go to where he owned another piece of property. Then, he would be with his “friend”.

        When I arrived on the scene, his father blamed ME for him being gay, which was bullshit. I basically helped my companion fully deal with his homosexuality and come out fully as he should have done years before.

        He father never understood that and never forgave me.

        You see too, him and I work/worked in fields that you just didn’t come out gay. In his case, since he worked in the Construction Industry, you could find yourself dead under a slab of concrete. In my case, job discrimination I faced, I lost jobs because of it.

        10 years ago, you didn’t come out gay. You could find yourself dead as a result. Even today, in certain parts of this country, you could find yourself in the same situation.

        • RobertCHastings

          Thank you for sharing. I clearly understand what it entails. Our friend who passed in 1990 told his mother, only to have her totally deny it. Paul was a delightful person who made our kids feel special – in fact, he made anyone feel special who happened to be interacting with him. You are definitely right about not being able to come out. The vast majority of those people with whom Paul interacted on a daily basis did not know he was gay. He would tell his friends he was going out of town to see his “girlfriend”. We had him figured out pretty quick, but did not press him until he felt ready. We knew him for only eight years, but he was a close member of our family. We met his partner just a few months before his partner passed, and they made as loving a couple as we had ever seen. Paul claims that he injected himself with a small amount of his partner’s blood when he found out what his illness was. Memorial services for both of them (about 18 months apart) were held in the same chapel at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, and hundreds of friends showed up for both – apparently not at all bothered by the orientation of either. We miss him greatly and think of him often. Had Reagan begun government-sponsored research when the first AIDS cases were identified, both could possibly still be alive.
          Portman, as the article states, knew of his sons homosexuality two years ago. He has either decided to get on the bandwagon, or he realizes his political career is over anyway – either way, it is an absolutely hypocritical thing that he has done.

  • old_blu

    It never ceases to amaze me.

    Portman is anti-gay rights until he has a gay family member. Cheney was, too.

    Nancy Reagan (and her husband) were anti-stem cell research until Ronald got Alzheimer’s.

    Rights don’t matter until they matter to you. How these people can go through most of their lives without developing the ability to empathize – to simply understand how others feel – is utterly confounding.

    Rush Limbaugh ceasing his condemnation of drug addicts only AFTER he was busted for being one. It never ceases to amaze me.

    • neeceoooo

      Very well said, thank you

    • RobertCHastings

      Reagan was also against doing anything about the spread of AIDS until near the end of his administration, when some of his wealthy donors developed AIDS due to tainted blood transfusions. Had he begun research earlier, we would today be much closer to agenuine cure. What your entire post clearly pictures is the plain, unadulterated hypocrisy of all the culprits you named.

      • Michael Kollmorgen

        Some on the Gay Community feel that the AIDS Virus was an invented Disease to decimate the Gay Community.

        If that was the case, it backfired since everyone else can also get the disease, as many people have found out who are straight.

        in any case, the public ignored it for the most part until straight people started getting it. Even today, IF straight people couldn’t have gotten it, there still wouldn’t be an treatment for it and most of the gay community would have been dead as a door nail.

        Thankfully, disease doesn’t discriminate against straight or gay.

        • RobertCHastings

          Remarkably, we have found something we both agree on. Maybe there IS hope for Congress, after all.

          • Michael Kollmorgen

            It would take a major re-orientation of people in general of their bigoted views in many areas of our society for Congress to wake up.

            As in our case, the gay community, we are a minority group that is too often used by both parties for their agendas.

            Once they gain our confidence and out vote, we’re used, then discarded as just another Pawn on “their” chessboard.

            I’m glad to see the public is waking up and doing the right thing, at least for the time being. All it would take for the public to turn tail and run again is some other leader(s) (political or religious) who has a better line of BS and follow, reverse all the gains that has been accomplished in the past.

            I really don’t have much faith in the public at all and certainly not in any of our elected officials all the way down to the local level.

            Remember, in THIS country, there is only 1 guarantee. And, that is – there are no guarantees.

        • RobertCHastings

          Ronald Reagan was in office from 1981 until 1989,when he was succeeded by George H. W. Bush. AIDS started grabbing the headlines in 1981and Reagan did nothing about it until 1987. By that time, thousands had died here and overseas and it was labeled as God’s revenge against the gays. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had Reagan convinced this was a disease ONLY gays could contract, and he and the American public bought it. The movie with Alan Alda and the “Vision Quest” actor entitled “The Band Played on” was an accurate depiction of the politics within the medical community to identify the bug and find a cure. By 1990, we had lost two very dear friends to the disease, and watched as the gay community united behind the quilt project. They found their political voice as many Americans who had vilified them began to realize they were real people. This is the same dynamic that I see you displaying with the Palestinians. Please, give them the benefit of acknowledging their humanity.

    • Rick2101

      Very true, it is not exactly hypocrisy, because that would mean politicians and others had a false claim to having admirable principles. They did not have admirable principles in the first place. The politicians simply told the voters what they thought the voters wanted to hear just to be elected.

      • old_blu

        Yeah I don’t think it is hypocrisy as much as it is just opening their eyes and seeing that for the most part most people are decent people whether you agree with what they believe or not, something they should do before it hits so close to home that they have too.

  • BDC_57

    I don’t think that you change your view over nite. It like a KKK member to stop hating blacks.

  • neeceoooo

    So does it have to get personal before they “see the light”? It makes me wonder if senators who oppose the gun control bills would vote differently if one of their children had lost their lives in the shootings at Sandy Hook or the theater in Aurora Colorado.

    • RobertCHastings

      I wonder how Wayne LaPierre would feel if one of his children were to meet an untimely demisedue to gun violence.

      • neeceoooo

        Too bad someone doesn’t ask him that.

  • [email protected]

    There is no wrong reason for supporting gay rights. The author, Leonard Pitts, Jr., suggests that it is wrong to be enlightened when a family member comes out. he is criticizing Portman for not understanding this sooner. Just because it takes someone decades before they can see a situation more clearly, it does not invalidate their awakening. I praise Portman for his support, but still wonder why it takes such a long time for things to change. Standard family values could have led him to this decision earlier, but better late than never.

  • Of course Hillary finally coming out strongly in favor of marriage equality now rather than when she was a First Lady, Senator, Democratic candidate or Sec. of State, with a possible eye towards looking good in 2016 is sooooo much better of a motivation than supporting it because of a family member.

  • sleeprn01

    Mr. Portman did not change his belief about gay marriage because of empathy, it was because of selfishness. He wants his gay son to have the pleasure of being in a stable relationship for 26 years as he and his wife have had. And he wants his son to have the same rights that his other 2 children have. If Mr. Portman had empathy he would have wanted those same rights for other gay and lesbian couples; no, in the end it was not a moral epiphany that he had but rather selfishness that changed his opinion.