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Sen. Rob Portman, Rare GOP LGBTQ+ Ally, Retiring in 2022

Rob Portman

Ohio’s Rob Portman, one of the few Republican U.S. senators to give any support to LGBTQ+ equality, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2022.

Portman said “partisan gridlock” and incivility in Congress played a large role in his decision, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. “It’s a problem that’s gotten worse in the past couple of decades,” he told the paper. “It’s a tough time to be in public service.” He will serve the remaining two years of his term, he said.

Portman was first elected to the Senate in 2010. In 2013, he became the first Republican in the chamber to support marriage equality, saying that having a gay son had changed his mind on the matter. When that son, Will, came out to Portman and his wife, Jane, “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,” Portman told the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time.

Portman had previously, as a member of the U.S. House, supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal government recognition to same-sex marriages. He also once voted for a constitutional amendment against marriage equality.

In 2013, he was also one of a few Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned anti-LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination nationwide. ENDA failed to pass and has now been superseded by the Equality Act, which is pending in Congress and would apply to aspects of life beyond the workplace, such as housing and public accommodations. Portman, who had supported a broad ENDA exemption for religious employers, has not yet cosponsored the Equality Act, according to the Human Rights Campaign. He has not exactly been a champion of other LGBTQ+ rights measures; in some sessions of Congress, he has received low scores and even zeroes on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard.

Some LGBTQ+ activists have criticized legislation that Portman touts as one of his signature achievements. He authored the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, which is aimed at combating sex trafficking by holding websites that enable such trafficking criminally responsible. However, advocates for sex workers, both LGBTQ+ and straight, have said SESTA and companion legislation FOSTA endanger sex workers (engaging in consensual encounters) by removing a space to meet clients that is far safer than meeting them on the streets. Donald Trump signed SESTA and FOSTA into law in 2018.

Ohio’s other U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown, is a liberal Democrat with a strong pro-LGBTQ+ record, and he is next up for reelection in 2024. Democrats were already targeting Portman’s seat in the 2022 election and have been raising funds for whoever becomes the nominee.

However, Ohio has been trending more Republican than Democratic; Donald Trump carried the state by eight percentage points in 2020. Republicans who may run for Portman’s seat include ultraconservative, anti-LGBTQ+ U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan. Among the other potential Republican candidates, according to the Enquirer, are former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, current U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers and Bill Johnson, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Ohio Republican Party leader Jane Timken, and J.D. Vance, author of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy.

Possible Democratic candidates include U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (who briefly sought the party’s 2020 presidential nomination), Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, Ohio House member Emilia Sykes, former Ohio House member Kathleen Clyde, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, and former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, Cleveland TV station WKYC reports.

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