Sen. Rob Portman, who has been criticized from conservatives for his recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, said those who attended Saturday night’s GOP Lincoln Day Dinner were a “split group,” but “very respectful” of his change of opinion.
Portman addressed a small group of reporters a few minutes before the $75-a-plate dinner started at The Oscar Event Center. He said changing his stance on same-sex marriages was a personal decision that came after his 21-year-old son, Will Portman, told his family he was gay. He said he understood that his opinion would be unpopular in the Republican party.
Still, he said of his son: “We support him and love him.”
Portman said after his son’s announcement, he gained a “different perspective, a perspective of a father.”
Portman’s appearance at the Lincoln Day Dinner in the GOP stronghold was among his first public speaking events since announcing he supported gay marriage last week.
He received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was announced as the keynote speaker. Instead of talking about gay marriage, Portman urged the Republican party to “change directions.”
He said the problems that face our country are “incredibly serious” and “our country is in trouble.”
He praised Butler County Republicans for carrying 62 percent of the vote in the presidential election, but the party must “learn from the mistakes … we have to.”
Dave Kern, county GOP chairman, said the definition of marriage consists of the union between a man and a woman and that is part of the 2012 Republican platform. He said he supported that and knows the “vast majority of Butler County Republicans feel the same way.”
In response to the senator’s revelation, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., whose district includes all of Butler, Clark, Darke, Miami and Preble counties, had said he couldn’t imagine supporting same-sex marriage.
Portman was asked if he thought his stance impacted his political career and derailed his opportunity to serve as vice presidential candidate in the 2012 presidential election. He said that decision was made before he announced he was pro-gay marriage and was “not a factor.”
Portman said what drives the Republican party is its concern for the sluggish economy, jobs and excessive government spending. Portman said he was trying to pass legislation until 4:30 a.m. Saturday, and he had a family function to attend after the dinner. He had two hours sleep and classified it as “a big week.”
There were several Butler County Sheriff’s deputies at the event, and they stood guard outside the doors during dinner.
An event organizer said 415 people attended the dinner, a few more than last year when Boehner was the keynote speaker; the 75 people who attended the $500-per-person private reception in a separate room was about the same as last year.