Chicago 2 (author/ date)

Burden of Inequality

    A Republican primary and an Ohio state Senator did a great deal for his family, but he also made a huge contribution to the nation. Courage is a term that people see symbolized through acts of bravery and heroism. Courage is better defined as people not only having the confidence to go against the beliefs of their enemies, but also defy the opinions of their supporters. Profiles in Courage, a collection of short bibliographies by president John F. Kennedy, defines and exemplifies his meaning of political courage. Politically courageous people are elected officials who vote or support a cause that goes against their political party’s opinion, to do what they believe is right for the nation. Rob Portman is a modern example of political courage because he was the first sitting Republican U.S. Senator to, “support same-sex marriage as a public policy” (Ponnuru 2013, 16). What drastically made him change his mind? His son, Will Portman, had recently announced to his family that he was gay. As the first sitting Republican to support gay marriage rights in 2013, Portman faced the wrath of his fellow party members and other drastic consequences. Portman realized that in order to insure the happiness of his son and family, he needed to also share his support for gay marriage throughout the nation.

    Will Portman came out to his family two years before his father changed his opinion on gay marriage. Rob Portman got criticized about not expressing his support for his son sooner, but his son, Will Portman, explains that, “It took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out” (Portman 2013a). It took the Ohio Senator a while to process his son’s coming out especially considering that, “[his] position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in [his] faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman” (Portman 2013b). It could have been so easy for Portman to ostracize Will because of his sexuality and stick to his religious beliefs. Similar to the American classic, The Scarlet Letter, the female protagonist, Hester Prynne was shunned by her community because the child that she gave birth to was the result of her secret affair. Portman not only stands by his son, but he was also courageous enough to express his support to the LGBT Community. Portman defended his son’s earlier statement by saying that his son helped him view life in a new perspective, “I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married” (Portman, 2013b). With this statement, Portman has not only announced the support towards his son, but also support towards the LGBT community. He even describes to a Chicago magazine, Christian Century, that, “in a way [gay marriage] strengthens the institution of marriage” (Religious News Service). This has not only made an immense impact in politics, but it has greatly influenced the gay rights movement as well.

    The LGBT community appreciated, Republican, Portman’s sudden change of heart because his, “announcement could have a major impact on the nationwide debate on gay marriage” (Torry and Wehrman 2013). Not everyone was convinced that he could so easily change his beliefs and support gay marriage. Reporters and other politicians believed that this was an act of selfishness and that he only brought attention to himself to impress his son. Critics question if his support was truly genuine due to the fact that it seems he only changed his mind based on a personal experience. (Bash 2013; Chait 2013; Clinton 2013; Golinkin 2013; MacAskill 2013). It is personal experiences that shape humans and their beliefs. Portman says that he simply, “followed [his] heart,” when he finally made his decision on whether or not to support gay marriage (Bash, 2013). By following his heart he was not only able to support his son, but Portman was also able to show his support to the LGBT community and progress the gay rights movement. Allan Nevins clearly stated in the foreword of Profiles in Courage, “Sporadic instances of courage on isolated and unimportant issues have no great significance. To be important, courage must be exhibited on behalf of some large cause or rule” (1961 xxi). Because Portman is a sitting Republican that spoke out and renounced his objection on the issue of gay marriage, he has insinuated hope into gay rights advocates and showed them that not all of the Republican majority in Congress is completely against them. But most importantly, he has positively encouraged a controversial cause, the gay rights movement.

   Portman’s impact towards his fellow Congressional Republicans was not as influential as it was to the LGBT community and some of his fellow party members highly disagree with his change of heart. New York Times journalist, Jeremy W. Peters, also found evidence of religious conservatives, such as Erick Erickson, attacking Portman, criticizing his beliefs and questioning his Christianity on Twitter, “Senator Portman speaks like so many who call themselves Christians but actually don’t spend much time dwelling on the Word of God” (Erickson 2013; Peters 2013). After hearing the comments of the public, many reporters turned to receive the opinions of other Congressional Republicans. When Republican and Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was asked what he would do if he was put in the same situation as Portman he replied, “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change” (Stein 2013). Portman’s announcement was an act of political courage because he received an abundance of negative and positive feedback from ill-disposed followers, fellow party members and his own supporters. Overall Portman told reporters that, “he had not considered how it [would] affect him politically” he just was focused on figuring out a way to support gay marriage and preserve his faith (Torry and Wehrman 2013). His intentions were nothing but positive for his family and the nation. Portman would fit into Kennedy’s description of what it means to be a U.S. Senator, “[a senator] must judge for himself which path to choose, which step will most help or hinder the ideals to which he is committed” (1956, 11). Portman has not made much of a positive impact on fellow Congressional Republicans and Christians, but the state of Ohio’s votes would demonstrate otherwise.

    In Ohio, Portman’s popularity only grew with his public announcement and also generated the attention of the media on marriage equality. A poll was taken by Quinnipiac University and their results demonstrated that 44 percent of the 1,138 Ohio voters were against gay marriage and 48 percent of them supported it (Quinnipiac University 2013; Edwards-Levy 2013). Portman’s announcement not only affected him personally but politically as well. The citizens, especially in his home state, either turned against him or supported him. In the poll, it was also discovered that the Republican’s disapproval of Portman increased from 8 percent to 21 percent in Ohio (Quinnipiac University 2013; Edwards-Levy 2013). But fortunately, this did not affect him much and raised his popularity about 25 percent. Portman’s opinion cost him the support of Republican citizens, but with the assist from the democrats and independent voters his numbers did not immensely decrease. His announcement commenced the media to cover the controversial subject to the public. A journal written by The Pew Research Center on media coverage of gay marriage researched that, “18% of the stories – involved announcements by public figures, most of the time stating support for the measure” (2013, 10). Most politicians that support marriage equality use to media to usually help themselves. Portman’s positivity and support influenced the media to cover the gay marriage controversy and enlighten the public on this issue in America.

    Portman did not let the negativity of the public get to him. He persevered through the comments and consequences when he withdrew his opposition on gay marriage. Former U.S. president John F. Kennedy could not have said it better himself, "A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality." (1956, 266). Portman is politically courageous because he was not only able to rearrange his religious beliefs, but he also publicized his opinion; going against his political party to advocate the evolution of the United States. In favor of same-sex marriage he said, “As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage” (Portman 2013b). Portman defines true political courage because be did not concede and cower away from the public; brave enough to proudly, confidently state his new perspective while contributing to the nation.


Bash, Dana. 2013. Rob Portman Speaks with CNN's Dana Bash About His Change on Gay Marriage. YouTube video, 

7:31. Posted by "Nomorcocktails", March 15, 2013.

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Clinton, Kate. 2013. “Lesbian Limbo” The Progressive, July 2013. 41.

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Erickson, Erick. 2013. Twitter post, March 15, 1:09 p.m. December 15, 2015.

Golinkin, Jeb. 2013. “Why We Shouldn't Applaud the 'Courage' of Politicians Backing Gay Marriage” Yahoo News, March 26. Accessed on December 14, 2015.

Kennedy, John F. 1956. “Profiles in Courage” New York: Harper.

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Nevins, Allan. 1961. Foreword to Profiles In Courage: Inaugural Edition, by John F. Kennedy, xxi. New York: Harper.

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    March 15. Accessed on December 13, 2015.


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Portman, Will. 2013. “PORTMAN: Coming Out” Yale Daily News. March 25. Accessed on December 15, 2015.

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    19. December 16, 2015.

Religious News Service. 2013. “GOP senator changes his view on gay marriage” Christian Century, April 17. 16.

Stein, Sam. 2013. “Rob Portman's Gay Marriage Conversion Explained By His Son” The Huffington Post, March 25. Accessed on December 16, 2015.

Torry, Jack and Wehrman, Jessica. 2013.  “Rob Portman Reverses Stance on Gay Marriage, Says Son is Gay” The Columbus Dispatch. March 15. Accessed on December 14, 2015.