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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for November, 2013

US Senate Passes ENDA

Jim Burroway

November 7th, 2013

In a landmark 64-32 bipartisan vote, U.S. Senate gave its approval to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Fifty-four Democrats were joined by ten Republicans to support the measure: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME, cosponsor), Jeff Flake (AZ), Orrin Hatch (UT), Dean Heller (NV), Mark Kirk (IL, cosponsor), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was absent due to family reasons.

ENDA now includes a significantly broad set of religious exemptions. As The New York Times pointed out in its criticism of the bill last weekend:

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act, however, has a significant flaw — a terribly broad religious exemption. The exemption would extend beyond churches and other houses of worship to any religiously affiliated institution, like hospitals and universities, and would allow those institutions to discriminate against people in jobs with no religious function, like billing clerks, cafeteria workers and medical personnel.

The exemption — which was inserted to appease some opponents who say the act threatens religious freedom — is a departure from the approach of earlier civil rights laws. And though the law would protect millions of workers from bias, the exemption would give a stamp of legitimacy to the very sort of discrimination the act is meant to end.

The Times said that “Any attempt to further enlarge the exemption should be rejected,” but an amendment yesterday offered by Sens. Portman and Ayotte (with McCain co-sponsoring) did just that. Their amendment reads:

A religious employer’s exemption under this Act shall not result in any action by a Federal government agency, or any state or local government agency that receives Federal funding or financial assistance, to penalize or withhold licenses, permits, certifications, accreditation, contracts, grants, guarantees, tax-exempt status, or any benefits or exemptions from that employer, or to prohibit the employer’s participation in programs or activities sponsored by that Federal, state, or local government agency. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to invalidate any other federal, state, or local law or regulation that otherwise applies to an employer exempt under this section.”

That amendment was approved yesterday. Today, the Senate rejected another amendment by Sen. Tooley that would have expanded the scope of employers exempted from the Act.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already said that he opposes the law, making it unlikely that he will bring it to a vote. Many observers believe that if it did come to a vote, there would be enough bipartisan support to ensure its passage.

ENDA Passes Senate Cloture

Jim Burroway

November 4th, 2013

The Senate has voted 61-30 to invoke cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), setting up what appears to be its assured passage for a final Senate vote on Wednesday. Seven Republicans joined 54 Democrats in voting for cloture. The seven GOP ayes were: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Mark Kirk (IL), Susan Collins (ME), Orin Hatch (UT), Dean Heller (NV), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). Sens. Kirk and Collins were co-sponsors. Heller announced his support earlier today. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) had voiced her support for ENDA but didn’t cast a vote today. Sens. Ayotte and Portman were a last-minute additions. Portman’s son was particularly happy to see his dad’s vote:

Update: Sen. Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January 2012, broke his silence for his first Senate Floor Speech since returning:

“I have been silent for the past two years due to a stroke,” Kirk said. “I’ve risen to speak because I believe so passionately in… ENDA.”


When the Political Is the Personal

Jim Burroway

March 25th, 2013

Those of us who have been out for a very long time can sometimes forget what a daunting chore coming out can be. Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) son, Will Portman, was eighteen years old and a freshman at Yale when he decided to come out to everyone. The biggest chore was to his parents, then he went down a checklist of friends and relatives, some of whom he came out to in person, others via letter, email, phone call or Skype. And to add to that, imagine the pressure of being eighteen and having the emotional difficulties of having your coming out wrapped up in national politics:

I started talking to my dad more about being gay. 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. Eventually, though, we began talking about the policy issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.

The following summer, the summer of 2012, my dad was under consideration to be Gov. Romney’s running mate. The rest of my family and I had given him the go-ahead to enter the vetting process. My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we’d be open about it 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. 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.

Now that Will Portman is twenty and a junior, most of that reluctance appears to have melted away, if this essay in the Yale Daily News is any indication. Will is rightly proud of his father for handling his coming out the way he did. It can be complicated for any young man to navigate, and given the larger picture it seems to me that father and son handled it pretty well. “It has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines,” Will writes, of which we can only imagine. I wonder how many other nineteen year old sons of U.S. Senators would be able to go through all this pressure.

As for how that impacted the Romney campaign’s decision not to go with Portman for the number two slot and carry with it the key swing state of the election, that story hasn’t been told. But every campaign has its Primary Colors and Game Change, and its only a matter of time before this story gets written as well.

Headline of the Day

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2013

From comedian/satirist Andy Borowitz:

Portman Inspires Other Republicans to Stop Speaking to Their Children

Boehner, McCain Say They’ll Never Support Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2013

Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that, unlike Sen. Rob Portman(R-OH), who announced that he now supports marriage equality after his son came out to him as gay, Boehner said that he “can’t imagine” ever changing his opposition to same-sex marriage:

I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Boehner said on ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “It’s — 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.”

…”Listen, Rob’s a great friend and a long-time ally.  And — I appreciate that he’s decided to change — his views on this.  But I believe that marriage is a union of — of a man and a woman, said Boehner.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also spoke on the issue. McCain had opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, but only because he believed that it would have infringed on states’ rights. He voiced support for California’s Prop 8 and Arizona’s Prop 102 in 2008 as he ran for President. On Friday, McCain told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he wouldn’t be changing his mind on marriage equality anytime soon:

“I respect anyone else’s decision and we all learn in life and grow and mature. I have changed my position on other issues in my life, but on this one, I had not contemplated changing my position,” he said.

So that brings me to this point: For the life of me, I will never understand, not in a million years, the hectoring and anger from some in the gay community that greeted Portman’s change of position. Look, I’m as dyed-blue big-D Democrat as they come. If I were an Ohio resident, I’d never vote for the man, donate to his campaign, or encourage anyone else to vote for him. I wouldn’t rush out to throw him a parade, but if the Columbus Pride organizing committee wants to make him Grand Marshal, I wouldn’t object.

But that said, any time someone — anyone — who once opposed marriage quality and changes his position, that’s one person less  working against us. You’d think the implications of that would be obvious, but since it apparently isn’t I’ll spell it out. All of the legislative and electoral gains have come about because people who actively opposed us stopped doing that, and some of them now support us. Look at Maine: In 2009, voters there shot down marriage quality 53% to 47%. In three short years, six percent of Maine’s voters pulled a Portman; they switched form opposing marriage equality to supporting it, and voters approved it by the same 53% to 47% margin that they voted it down three years before.

Was Portman “selfish” for supporting same-sex marriage only after his son came out to him? Maybe. Probably. But more importantly, who the hell care? Should we poll Maine’s electorate and throw out the “selfish” votes there also? Of course not, because in politics a win is a win. And we win every time someone changes from opposing us to supporting us. Or even, as a half measure, goes from opposing us to not opposing us — that’s a half-win in my book. Portman is now one more vote in a nascent movement to repeal DOMA in Congress if the Supreme Court fails to strike down Section 3. (And besides, there’s also Section 2 that remains unchallenged so far.) Portman may also be an important voice should equality advocates in Ohio launch a ballot challenge to that state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a move that is likely to occur, I think, sometime in the next five years.

Each move on the issue is important. But for those who want to complain and kvetch about Portman’s change, I guess they can always take comfort in knowing that McCain and Boehner won’t let them down.

Cue the calliope – NOM reacts to Portman

Timothy Kincaid

March 15th, 2013

We’re quite accustomed to the National Organization for Marriage saying things that are, shall we say, creative in their approach to facts. To put it in religious terms, the like to walk by faith, not by sight.

But today’s response to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announcing his support for equality is wacky to the point of clown car, looney toons, bad 70’s Disney annimation, complete wackadoodleness.

A spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage on Friday slammed Sen. Rob Portman, who has announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, reversing his long-held opposition to the issue.

“What Mr. Portman is doing is shrinking the size of the GOP tent,” charged Thomas Peters, a spokesman for the socially conservative NOM, in an interview with POLITICO. “I think it will have huge consequences if he chooses to run again.”

Sure, maybe there on Planet Completelynutso it would shrink the tent to include the majority of people who support equality. Maybe in Delusionville it’s a smart long term plan to side with the elderly and ignore everyone under 40.

But back here in reality, I’m beginning to think that Thomas Peters is in the market for a good tinfoil hat.

GOP Sen. Portman supports equality

Timothy Kincaid

March 15th, 2013

I knew it had to happen at some point. Some Republican US Senator had to be the first to endorse marriage equality, but I was thinking maybe Sue Collins or Mark Kirk. I certainly wasn’t guessing Ohio’s freshman Senator, Rob Portman.

But then again I didn’t know that Portman has a gay son. (

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Thursday announced he has reversed his longtime opposition to same-sex marriage after reconsidering the issue because his 21-year-old son, Will, is gay.

Portman said his son, a junior at Yale University, told him and his wife, Jane, that he’s gay and “it was not a choice, it was who he is and that he had been that way since he could remember.”

“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman told reporters in an interview at his office.

This is a bit risky. Ohio Republicans are a different breed from the New Hampshire strain.

But I’m going to hazard a guess that this wont much hurt Portman. It might even help him. Times have changed and even the wing-nuts can accept a father acting out of love for his kid.

(CNN has a fuller story )

UPDATE: Sen. Portman has written an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch expressing his views on marriage. Some I disagree with (I hope for an expansive court decision on marriage equality), but as an appeal to other conservatives and Republicans, I welcome this step. It’s far stronger to have Portman assert in his own words his support for equality than simply to tell the press.