Rob Portman’s Support of Gay Marriage Puts Him at Odds with Two-Thirds of GOP Voters


In 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

In 1999, he voted to prohibit gay couples in Washington from adopting.

Two years ago, his son told him he was gay.

And this week, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced a change of heart, saying he had decided to support same-sex marriage. The stance puts him at odds with two-thirds of Republican voters and the rest of his fellow Republicans in the Senate.

“I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married,” Portman wrote in an essay for the Columbus Dispatch.

For a Midwestern conservative who served in the George W. Bush administration and made Mitt Romney’s shortlist for vice president, Portman’s reversal was both striking and of the moment.

Public opinion has been shifting rapidly in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and in two weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet just eight years ago, Portman’s own state was ground zero in a national, and largely successful, movement against gay marriage.

The main reason for Portman’s shift? Family — specifically his son Will, a junior at Yale University.

With the Portmans out of pocket, pundits and politicos were left to haggle over what the announcement means for the Republican Party and Portman’s political future — his current Senate term will be ending just as the 2016 presidential race heats up. Leading Republican gay rights groups praised his decision, while social conservatives decried it.

In 2004, Ohio voters backed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by 62 percent to 38 percent. By last fall, a Washington Post poll showed that 52 percent of registered voters in the state said gay marriage should be legal.

Washington Post staff writers Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake and Capital Insight pollster Scott Clement contributed to this report.