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Rob Portman’s (Opportunistic?) Reversal on Gay Marriage

So many people are chattering wildly about Rob Portman’s conversion to a pro-same sex marriage (SSM) position.  “Game changer” and “this changes everything” are just two of the Facebook updates I have seen on this.  While I appreciate him coming around, I just can’t get all that excited about the news.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that the sands are shifting (and that is a very, very good thing) to a place where SSM is starting to be seen as a winning issue for GOP candidates, rather than an unquestionably losing one. Portman, however, seems to be someone who is opportunistically exploiting that.

In 2004 Portman supported a Constitutional ban on SSM; not just a ban against it. He wanted it enshrined in the Constitution.  He has defended DOMA. In 2009, he opposed a law that would have allowed gay couples in DC the right to adopt.  He has actively opposed gay rights for a decade at least.  But then there is this:

“[W]hat happened to me is really personal. I mean, I hadn’t thought a lot about this issue. Again, my focus has been on other issues over my public policy career.”

Huh?  You were that active in voting on an issue you really hadn’t thought a lot about? So your default position on issues you don’t think about is to deny people rights?  Really?

Reconciling his past opposition to SSM and his current conversion is almost impossible. His explanation is that his son Will came out two years ago and that profoundly changed his mind.

But less than two years ago, at a speech to the University of Michigan law school, a full third of the school got up and walked out of his speech in protest of his positions on gay rights.  That was, if his timeframe is to be accepted, after his son came out.

Granted I am a reliable cynic, but it seems to me that Portman, who is bandied about as a potential POTUS contender in 2016, is seeing the writing on the wall.

A poll out last week notes that Republicans oppose gay marriage 69-23.  There is a relatively small wing of the GOP that will support candidates who are openly in favor of SSM.  However, if properly aligned, that small minority could be enough to win a fractured primary field.  Getting a base of 23%, and being able to cobble together enough support among the remaining 77% to provide a winning coalition – especially in a field of 6-10 candidates – could be winning math.

Portman’s dramatic reversal may be real.  I sincerely hope it is. Even if it’s not, it is certainly cause for those in the GOP that think like me to be happy. The party is, slowly but surely, being dragged toward its stated position of personal freedom on this issue.

But I have seen enough in politics to be more than a tad jaded.  I suspect that Portman may be looking at electoral calculations, more than personal or moral ones, in announcing this dramatic reversal at the beginning of a Presidential cycle.

Written by Michael Turk