GOP leaders on the Hill declined to criticize Sen. Rob Portman’s decision to support gay marriage, after years of opposing it on religious grounds.
“Sen. Portman is a friend and ally,” said a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “The Speaker respects his position, but the Speaker continues to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that Portman had talked to the leader about his change of heart prior to making the announcement, but that McConnell had no immediate comment, noting that it was a personal matter for Portman.
Portman, who was vetted as a possible GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, arrived at his new position after his son Will told his parents that he was gay.
The Ohio Republican announced his position in an interview with CNN and a newspaper opinion piece.
“My son came to Jane — my wife — and I, told us that he was gay and that it was not a choice,” Portman said in the interview, adding that the news led to a very personal process for the senator that included discussions with clergy. “During my career in the House and also the last couple years here in the Senate, you know, I’ve taken a position against gay marriage,” he said.
Portman also wrote an opinion piece in Friday’s Columbus Dispatch to expand on how his position has evolved, saying that he heard from his son two years ago.
Reaction around the Capitol was similarly muted. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declined to comment, noting that he only recently read Portman’s article.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., only said, “Rob is a good man, he is a good man.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, noted that each person must make up his own mind on the issue, but said his position remains firm.
“Obviously each person has to make their own decision on this,” Scalise said. “But if you look … through not only our country’s history but the history of the world marriage has typically been defined as a union between a man and a woman.”
Scalise noted that he also supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies legally married gay and lesbian couples federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples, including tax and Social Security benefits.
“I signed on to a number of amicus briefs in support of DOMA and hope the Supreme Court upholds the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in a bipartisan way,” Scalise said.
Various federal courts have already ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional, but those decisions have been appealed, and now the Supreme Court will decide whether to confirm those decisions. The court is expected to hear the case before the end of the month. A decision is likely in June.
Additionally, a provision extending benefits to gay, lesbian and transgender persons was included in a domestic violence bill that became law this month. Republicans initially opposed the provision, but ultimately accepted it.
The issue could also come up in reform of the immigration system as Democrats hope to provide green cards for same-sex couples. However if the court rules DOMA unconstitutional, there would be no barrier for the revamped immigration system to recognize same sex marriages.
Despite the muted GOP response, Democrats welcomed Portman’s announcement.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said, “everyone should come out in favor of marriage equality. It’s the right thing to do. It’s an issue about justice and fairness.”
A senior Senate Democratic aide said that “there is universal admiration for the loyalty that Sen. Portman has shown for his family and the courage that he has shown within his party.”