U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)Photo: Al Behrman, AP
When Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced last week that he would not seek re-election in 2022, he was the recipient of glowing profiles that portrayed him as a vanishing breed: a moderate, civil Republican. Chief among the positions cited as examples was Portman’s willingness to buck the party and announce his support for marriage equality in 2013. Portman was swayed on the issue because it hits close to home: his son Will is gay.
Portman got flak for his position, and it certainly didn’t do his presidential ambitions any good. Portman took a courageous stand, and he deserves full credit for it. The Senator has also been a supporter of federal legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Related: GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson didn’t care about LGBTQ issues, but he harmed us anyway
Unfortunately, Portman has also spent a lot of time undercutting his moments of principle. For all of Portman’s positioning as a moderate influence in the GOP, he was a go-with-the-flow kind of Senator.
To say Portman failed to speak up in the face of Trump’s outrages is an understatement. During the Trump era, he rarely disagreed with the president publicly. When he did, he wrapped his criticism in velvet, so as not to offend Trump.
“I think there’s 50 instances where I disagreed with the president and I said so, but I tried to say so respectfully,” Portman told the Washington Post.
Yet, Portman’s voting record during the Trump era belies his moderate image. He voted against convicting Trump during the first impeachment. Moreover, on LGBTQ issues, Portman consistently took positions at odds with the support that he was best known for. That’s why after performing pretty well on Human Rights Campaign (HRC)’s Congressional Scorecard in past years, Portman touts a perfect zero rating based on the last session.
Portman backed all three of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, all of whom have dreadful records on LGBTQ issues. (Neil Gorsuch’s surprise ruling in favor of job protections can still be undone, due to his clear bias for religious liberty exemptions.)
Portman also voted for the worst of Trump’s nominees for lower courts over the last two years. He voted to put Matthew Kacsmaryk on the bench. Kacsmaryk made his career fighting LGBTQ rights, at one point representing an Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Portman also voted for Lawrence VanDyke, who has repeatedly claimed that marriage equality would hurt children.
The senator supported an appointment for Andrew Brasher, who did legal work for the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom. Then there’s Justin Walker, Cory Wilson, Gregory Katsas — the list of dedicated anti-LGBTQ lawyers goes on and on.
Portman voted to install them all on the federal bench, where they will do damage to use for decades to come.
Portman still has two more years to serve. When he retires, he will undoubtedly be heralded by some as one of the few Republicans that was willing to support LGBTQ causes.
In truth, Portman’s record is far more mixed, and often, negatively impactful on the LGBTQ community. He was willing to put aside his support on LGBTQ issues to stand by Trump, and install his judges that are dedicated to fighting the very principles he espoused.
That’s hardly a legacy of which to be proud.