Metro Weekly

Marriage-equality opponents to target Rob Portman in 2016

Rob Portman - Credit: C-SPAN
Rob Portman – Credit: C-SPAN

Sen. Rob Portman will become the latest target of social conservatives bent on preventing the Republican Party from embracing LGBT equality.

Following the defeats of three pro-LGBT Republicans this election cycle, including two who are openly gay, the National Organization for Marriage announced Monday they will work against Portman’s reelection to the Senate or his possible presidential campaign in 2016 due to the Ohio Republican’s support for marriage equality.

Portman became the first Senate Republican to openly support same-sex marriage in March 2013, about a week before the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, became the first Senate Republican to openly support same-sex marriage. Portman, who was on the shortlist to become Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate, said his evolution on the issue came after his son, Will, came out to him two years earlier as a freshman at Yale University.

“Rob Portman’s son has a right to live as he chooses, but that does not give his father the right to redefine marriage,” NOM President Brian Brown said in a statement. If Portman runs for reelection to the Senate in 2016, Brown vowed NOM will support a Republican primary challenger who opposes same-sex marriage. Should Portman survive the primary, Brown said NOM would urge voters to refuse to vote for him in the general election, much as they did with three pro-LGBT Republican candidates this election cycle. 

“Republicans want to support candidates who stand with them to advance policies that promote liberty, prosperity, national security and the natural family,” said Brown.

This election, NOM actively campaigned against GOP candidates Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, Carl DeMaio in California and Monica Wehby in Oregon. Tisei and DeMaio, who are both openly gay, both lost their bids for the House of Representatives. Wehby, who featured one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued Oregon over the state’s same-sex marriage ban in a campaign ad, lost her bid for the Senate. NOM went so far as to endorse the Democratic opponents of Tisei and DeMaio, arguing a Democratic supporter of LGBT rights in the minority would be less damaging than a Republican supporter of LGBT rights in the majority. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NOM spent $2,290 against Wehby, $4,290 against Tisei and $9,177 against DeMaio. 

Since Portman’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, three of his Republican colleagues in the Senate have followed his lead: Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Portman and those three senators were four of ten Republicans to vote to outlaw LGBT workplace discrimination when the Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last November. Portman has also left the door open to a possible run for president in 2016.

“It probably makes it difficult for me to win a primary election at the national level, but we’ll see,” Portman said during an interview in June with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson. “If someone else steps up and has these ideas to be able to reform our economic system, have the Republican Party be a bigger tent party to be able to reach these communities that we talked about earlier, then I’ll stay in the United States Senate, which is what I plan to do. But I’ll be watching and seeing who runs and what happens.”

If Portman were to run for president, he could very well end up sharing a debate stage with such vocal opponents of same-sex marriage as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. 

“I predict that by 2016 Sen. Portman is going to be joined by a lot more pro-marriage equality Republicans in federal and statewide office, and NOM can’t stop that momentum,” said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans.

Despite the fact that Republican support for same-sex marriage will likely continue to grow, Brown says Portman can forget about being president. “If he runs we will make sure that GOP primary voters are aware of his desire to redefine marriage and his willingness to see federal judges set aside the votes of 50 million Americans who enacted marriage amendments across the country because his son is gay,” Brown added.

NOM has claimed victory in other races this election cycle as well, including the elections of Republican Senate candidates Thom Tillis, who defeated Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina, and Tom Cotton, who defeated Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas (Pryor is one of three Senate Democrats who have not endorsed same-sex marriage). According to NOM, they spent $200,000 in those two Senate races, and “mounted extensive grassroots efforts” supporting Senators-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa and Ben Sasse in Nebraska as well as Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas.

But Republican supporters of LGBT rights insist NOM is all bark and no bite.

“NOM is setting a new standard for getting trapped in one’s own fantasy – never has anyone claimed so much from doing so little,” Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior advisor for both American Unity PAC and American Unity Fund, told Metro Weekly. American Unity PAC launched in 2012 with the financial-backing of billionaire hedge fund manager and GOP donor Paul Singer and is focused on protecting and promoting Republican candidates for Congress who embrace LGBT rights. In 2013, American Unity Fund was launched as well, which is a nonprofit focused on working with Republicans and Republican officeholders to advance LGBT rights.

This year alone, $13 million has been spent on advocacy efforts through American Unity Fund, independent expenditure efforts through American Unity PAC and direct contributions to pro-gay GOP candidates. In 2014, Collins became the first GOP senator who supports same-sex marriage to win reelection and all four of the Republican supporters of marriage equality in the House were reelected. In Massachusetts, Charlie Baker became the first Republican supporter of same-sex marriage in the nation to be elected governor. 

“[NOM’s] techniques have almost everyone scratching their heads on Capitol Hill – why did they spend such an embarrassingly small amount of money? Why did they help Democrats who support the freedom to marry? Why attack Republican candidates and a GOP generally that has historically been more inclusive toward their values on a whole host of issues?” Cook-McCormac continued. “NOM has made it painfully clear that they will literally say or do anything to promote their narrow social agenda. They are clearly no friend to the Republican Party, they are on the wrong side of history and they are losing – badly.”

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