A Portman 2016 Campaign Could Signal National Progress for Gay Rights
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio might be considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, according to recent reports by The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Portman was close to becoming Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, and last week made a trip to New Hampshire, home to the first primary of every presidential election, where he spoke on subjects ranging from ISIS to the economy and the American Dream.
The senator’s potential campaign could also represent a significant shift in the fight over marriage equality.
Portman is one of only four Republican senators who have announced support for same-sex marriage, the others being Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. He would presumably be unique in that regard among candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination. Other potential contenders include Rick Perry, who criticized gay rights in his 2011 “Strong” campaign ad, and Michele Bachmann, who in July suggested that LGBT activists “want to abolish age-of-consent laws, which means… we would do away with statutory rape laws so that adults would be able to freely prey on little children sexually.”
Not even President Barack Obama openly supported gay marriage until four years after being elected.
Portman announced his position on the issue in a 2013 Dispatch op-ed, explaining that he changed his opinion after his son revealed to him and his wife that he is gay. Prior to that, Portman wrote, “As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples.”
Michael Premo, campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, said that the prospect of a Republican presidential candidate who openly supports same sex marriage is part of a larger trend within the GOP.
“Support for marriage equality is growing among Republicans, especially younger Republicans,” said Premo. “Any candidate in the GOP primary who supports marriage equality would be able to tap into the youth vote.”
Premo noted that as broad opposition to gay marriage continues to wane, the number of conservatives who say they are “strongly opposed” is dropping even more sharply. The trend in the GOP over the last 30 years has been to choose presidential nominees based on electability, said Premo, and a candidate who could appeal to independent voters on social issues like gay marriage would have significant “crossover appeal” in a general election.
Many in the Ohio LGBT community are also fiscal conservatives, said Premo. With his opposition to same-sex marriage no longer a factor, Portman could run with serious support from gay conservatives, as well as groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of LGBT members of the GOP.
In addition to changing his stance on same-sex marriage, Portman joined with 10 other Republican senators in voting for the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which protects gay and transgender employees from being fired or discriminated against due to sexual orientation or gender identification.
“I don’t believe that anyone should be subject to unjust discrimination, and I don’t believe any Ohioan should be fired simply because he or she is gay,” said Portman in a press release about ENDA.
To Premo, having a prominent Republican, and one who may soon be a candidate for president, supporting and working in favor of key LGBT issues is a “very telling example of why we are going to win marriage equality in this country.”
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