In a surprising and historical development, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Thursday became the first sitting Republican senator to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Several media outlets reported this news late Thursday night. The Ohio Republican said he grew to support marriage equality after his son Will, a student at Yale University, came out as gay to his family two years ago and said he’d been that way as long as he can remember.
Explaining his “change of heart” in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Portman said his previous position, which was rooted in faith, changed after that “very personal experience.”
“That launched an interesting process, for me, which was kind of rethinking my position, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders, and going through a process of — at the end — changing my position on the issue,” Portman said.
Portman expressed a similar sentiment to reporters in his office, according to another report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman was quoted as saying.
Media outlets reported Portman said he later came to support marriage equality after he consulted former Vice President Dick Cheney, a marriage equality supporter whose daughter Mary Cheney is a lesbian.
Moreover, Portman reportedly said he believes part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, should be repealed. Section 3 of that law prohibits federal benefits from flowing to married same-sex couples.
Still, Portman reportedly emphasized he doesn’t want to force his views on others and religious institutions shouldn’t be forced to perform weddings or recognize marriages against their tenets. The Ohio Republican said he doesn’t know what the political fallout of his new position will be.
Portman’s new position marks a significant turnaround from his voting record as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2005. During his tenure in the lower chamber of Congress, Portman voted for DOMA and a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in 2004.
While no other Republican members of the U.S. Senate support marriage equality, two sitting GOP House Republicans do: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). They both were among 131 prominent Republicans who signed a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8.
Portman isn’t the first Republican U.S. senator to back marriage equality, although he’s the only current member of the Republican Senate caucus to hold that position. Lincoln Chafee is considered the first because he supported legalizing same-sex marriage as a Republican U.S. senator before becoming an Independent and being elected governor of Rhode Island.
One question is where Portman now stands on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Asked about the issue last year by ThinkProgress, Portman expressed caution over the legislation and withheld immediate support.
“What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written,” Portman said at the time. “So you don’t want it to be a boon to lawyers, you want it to actually help people. But no one should discriminate.”
But in June, Shari Hutchinson, a lesbian Cleveland, Ohio, resident, and member of the LGBT group Freedom to Work’s Speakers Bureau, told the Washington Blade she met privately with Portman’s staff and left feeling optimistic the Ohio Republican would support ENDA.
“I am an Ohio voter and I met with Sen. Portman’s staff last month to tell them how I faced anti-lesbian slurs at work in Cleveland and how I was repeatedly denied promotions even when the heterosexual candidate they selected instead of me had failed the qualifying exam for that promotion,” Hutchinson said. “Mr. Portman’s staff was very attentive, respectful and concerned to hear that anti-LGBT workplace harassment and discrimination still goes on in Ohio. I urged them to support ENDA and I am hopeful Mr. Portman might do the right thing.”
Portman was on the short list of possible vice-presidential contenders for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Among LGBT advocates, he was seen as a lackluster candidate at the time because of his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment and reluctance to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said in a statement Portman’s new position demonstrates the growing support for marriage equality among the GOP.
“If there was any doubt that the conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples has broken, Sen. Portman’s support for the freedom to marry has erased it,” Angelo said. “Sen. Portman’s evolution on this issue highlights how personal it is for Americans — whether they’re the junior senator from Ohio or your next-door neighbor, all Americans have a gay friend, colleague or family member, and understand them to be as deserving as their straight counterparts of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are the promise of the United States.”
Angelo added Portman’s support for same-sex marriage demonstrates a person can support same-sex marriage while holding religious views.
“We also applaud and respect the Senator’s decision as a person of faith who recognizes that there is a Christian case as well as a conservative case for marriage equality,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans welcomes Senator Portman’s support, and encourages his GOP colleagues in the Senate to join him on the right side of history.”
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly reported that Portman is the first GOP U.S. senator to back marriage equality. It also mischaracterized a quote from Gregory Angelo. The Blade regrets the errors.
Featured Local Savings
Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody
Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017
A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.
Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”
Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020.
An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.
“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.
“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.
An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister.
State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world
Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs
The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.
Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.
• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia
• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights
• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda
• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK
• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.
Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.
Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.
More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.
“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.
Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.
“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”
The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.
Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.
Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth.
A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.
Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”
“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”
The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.
Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.
Federal government prepares for looming shutdown
White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’
However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.
As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.
This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.
Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.
Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.
“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.
“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.
The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”
Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.
Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.