Sen. Rob Portman on Friday became the first Republican in the Senate to support gay marriage — and his switch set off harsh words from many conservatives.
“Sen. Portman is a great friend and ally, and the speaker respects his position,” Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, told Politico. “But the speaker continues to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that it was Portman's “prerogative” to change his views on same-sex marriage, but that the traditional definition of marriage won't change “no matter what politicians decide.”
“I don't think they have the power to change what is a religiously inspired definition,” the Georgia GOP leader told CNN.
And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said to cheers at the Conservative Political Action Caucus in Washington: “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.”
Related: Portman Flips to Support Gay Marriage
In an essay published on Friday in the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio senator said that his reversal was based on him and his wife, Jane, learning two years ago that their son, Will, 21, was gay.
The Portmans have two other children.
“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 wrote.
The change is a stark one for Portman, who served in the George W. Bush White House and was on Mitt Romney’s short list for vice president in the 2012 election.
In 1996, Portman voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage — and three years later, he voted to bar gay couples in Washington, D.C., from adopting.
But the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two weeks on the constitutionality of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.
Some conservatives charged that Portman’s reversal was timed with gay-marriage advocates to coincide with the Supreme Court hearings.
“There is a concerted effort to pick off Republicans and make us appear divided,” Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage told NPR
at CPAC. The group is trying to stop efforts to legalize gay marriage.
Brown said that such efforts have only succeeded in “deep blue states that Republicans have not won statewide in forever.
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“He's going to be held accountable by the voters of Ohio,” Brown added, referring to Portman. “The issue of his son going out as gay is not a public policy decision.”
“Social conservatives,” Brown told NPR, “are not going to be kicked to the corner.”
Meanwhile, former Sen. Rick Santorum told Newsmax
that the GOP must remain firm on its support of traditional marriage.
“I respect Rob Portman and his decision, but the truth is marriage is a union between a man and woman that’s unique in nature,” the former Pennsylvania Republican told Newsmax at CPAC. “You can’t consummate any other marriage because nothing else is a construct in nature.
“It’s an important building block of society for people to come together and have children and raise them on the solid platform with a father and mother,” Santorum said.
And Kyle Kondik, a political analyst and former Ohio resident who now works at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville, predicted that Portman’s revelation may not be the last for Republicans.
“Portman is politically conservative, but he's never come across as an ideologue,” Kondik told NPR. He described Portman as “an insider politician.”
“This is probably just the tip of the spear; we're going to see more of this," Kondik said. “He's the first Republican senator who supports gay marriage, and he certainly won't be the last.”
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