Add Ohio Voters, 4 Senators to Marriage Equality

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Mar 26, 2013

In the wake of conservative GOP Sen. Rob Portman's surprise March 15 announcement that he has come out in favor of marriage equality, many observers concluded that his stand would cost him re-election in Ohio. Perhaps once again proving its reputation as America's bellwether state, a new poll shows Buckeyes as having made a U-turn similar to Portman's.

According to the Saperstein Poll conducted for the Columbus Dispatch, 54 percent of Ohioans support repealing a 2004 state constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to a man and woman, with two-thirds voting in favor.

A proposed amendment would "allow two consenting adults to marry, regardless of their gender." As in other states, it details religious carve outs that allow congregations and clerics to decide whether or not to sanctify such relationships. Pollster Martin D. Saperstein noted how important such previsions are important in the heavily churchgoing state. "They ameliorate the concerns that some people may have, like is this going to be forced on me, or forced on my church," he said.

Sapterstein attributed the remarkable turnaround in Ohioans' attitude to younger voters. "Part of that comes as the media make gay people look more common," he told the Dispatch.

Jen Tyrell, 33, who made headlines last year when the Boy Scouts of America ruled she could no longer serve as a Cub Scout den leader for her son's pack because she is a lesbian, also believes religious carve-outs could prove pivotal. Allowing clerics to "be free to choose to marry or not marry," the Bridgeport, Ohio, resident told the Dispatch, is "really important for people who feel like that."

Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, represented the state's still-powerful evangelicals. Poll results would have been different, he told the newspaper, if voters had been asked "the question alone to reverse the 2004 question to allow same-sex marriage." When people understand clearly what is presented to them, he's confident Ohioans will again affirm their support of traditional marriage.

Portman Details Dad’s Conversion

Both supporters and opponents have remarked on how rapidly Americans have changed their views on the issue.

Even so, Sen. Portman’s declaration became one of the most-discussed conversions to the same-sex marriage cause in recent years. Thus far, he remains the only Republican senator to have done so, although many prominent Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Chaney and Laura Bush, the wife of the man he served under, have come out in support.

Portman wrote in an op-ed piece for the Dispatch that it was his son’s coming out to him in 2011 that caused his personal road to Damascus. In his own op-ed piece in his college newspaper, son Will wrote of how he persuaded his dad that same-sex couples deserve the same rights as straight couples. "I started talking to my dad more about being gay, Portman fils wrote in Monday’s Yale Daily News.

"Through the process of my coming out, we’d had a tacit understanding that he was my dad first and my senator a distant second," he added. "Eventually, though, we began talking about the policy issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples."

Last summer, his father was a frontrunner to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Portman told Romney campaign staffers about Will and said he and his wife were "supportive and proud of their gay son." He also said he would not lie about Will’s orientation on the campaign trail.

"When he ultimately wasn’t chosen for the ticket, I was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign," Will revealed. "Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public."

The Portman family collectively decided that the senator would only discuss his son’s sexual orientation if he were asked his views on same-sex marriage. "It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart," Will Portman wrote. "Besides, the fact that I was gay would probably become public anyway. I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everyone knew about me."

Missouri Senator’s Change of Heart

Missouri is perhaps Ohio’s only rival for a reputation as America’s political weathervane. The well-named Show Me state sits smack in the middle of the country politically as well as geographically. Like Ohio, it roughly divides between Democrat-leaning big cities (Kansas City, St. Louis, in this case) and their suburbs, and conservative rural Republicans.

Still, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s announcement that she supports gay marriage proved another big surprise. McCaskill took to her Tumblr account on Sunday night to write that she write of her belief that "all Americas, gay and straight, should be allowed to fully participate in the most basic of family values."

McCaskill said it’s taken time for her views to change, but that she could no longer look at LGBT friends in the eye "without honestly confronting this uncomfortable inequality."

She hastened to add that she continues to respect her religiously inclined constituents. Clerics, she wrote, should "never be required to conduct marriages outside of their religious beliefs, neither should the government tell people who they have a right to marry."

Add Virginia Sen. Mark Warner

On the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the validity of California’s Proposition 8, yet another senator from a pivotal state announced a change of heart.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, also a Democrat, said on Monday that would now "support marriage equality because it is the fair and right thing to do. Like many Virginians and Americans, my views on gay marriage have evolved, and this is the inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone."

Virginia until recently reliably was solid red and anti-marriage equality. But an influx of federal workers in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and a shift in voting weight from miners and farmers to city dwellers resulted in its electoral votes going to Barack Obama in both elections. Conservatives were beside themselves when the regional branch of the Federal Reserve Bank flew a rainbow flag in Richmond, the capital of Dixie.

In 2006, Virginia voters ratified a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and woman. Five polls taken over the past two years have all agreed that a majority of voters still oppose marriage equality, although they differ on the exact percentage.

Even so, as Time Magazine pointed out, going public about his pro-equality stance before the last election didn’t hurt the state’s other senator, Democrat Tim Kaine, who handily beat a former governor.


Two more Democratic senators have come out for marriage equality. As ABC News reports, John "Jay" Rockefeller from West Virginia said he no longer supports DOMA. His statement echoed McCaskill’s Tumblr post.

"Like so many of my generation, my views on allowing gay couples to marry have been challenged in recent years by a new, more open generation. Churches and ministers should never have to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs, but the government shouldn’t discriminate against people who want to marry just because of their gender," Rockefeller said in a statement emailed to ABC News.

He added that younger people in his state and even his own children "have grown up in much more equal society and they rightly push us to question old assumptions - to think deeply about what it means for all Americans to be created equal."

He added that his change in views has been "a process but at this point I think it’s clear that DOMA is discriminatory. I’m against discrimination in all its forms, and I think we can move forward in our progress toward true equality by repealing DOMA."

Additionally, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, told ABC News that he is also backing same-sex marriage.

"I believe that same sex couples should be able to marry and should have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other married couple," Begich, said in a statement emailed to ABC News. "Government should keep out of individuals’ personal lives-if someone wants to marry someone they love, they should be able to. Alaskans are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives, our daily business, and in the way we manage our resources and economy."


  • Wayne M., 2013-03-27 20:24:47

    "Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, represented the state’s still-powerful evangelicals... he told the newspaper... he’s confident Ohioans will again affirm their support of traditional marriage." Oh Pul-leese Mr. Long! Quit insulting the intelligence of thinking people. Supporters of marriage equality do support traditional marriage. However, we also know that it is inappropriate for Lesbians and Gay men to marry a person of the opposite sex, especially when we love a person of the same sex and can build a happy, loving and faithful marriage with that person.

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