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GOP Senator Embraces Gay Marriage After His Son Comes Out

By Aviva Shen  

"GOP Senator Embraces Gay Marriage After His Son Comes Out"

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Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) has reversed his position on gay marriage, becoming the only sitting Republican senator to support marriage equality. The senator was a top contender to become Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate last year. As he explained to several Ohio newspapers, Portman was inspired by his son Will, who came out in February of 2011.

In a Columbus Dispatch op-ed, Portman explains how he struggled with his faith and his desire for his son to have the same opportunities his other children have:

I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.

That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.

Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.

At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

Portman elaborated on his evolution to CNN’s Dana Bash:

Portman’s previous stance on marriage equality was termed “openly hostile” by Michigan Law students who protested his commencement speech just two months after his son privately came out. One hundred students reportedly walked out of the speech. In June 2012, he still opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, explaining to ThinkProgress that businesses should be able to fire gay people without fear of legal action.

During the vetting process for GOP vice presidential candidate, Portman says he told Romney “everything” about his son and claims that the campaign assured him that his son’s orientation was not the reason why he was not selected.

Log Cabin Republicans greeted the news by celebrating the breach of the “conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples.” Meanwhile, at CPAC, many of Portman’s colleagues have spoken out against marriage equality. GOP star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), widely hailed as “the Republican Savior,” enthusiastically endorsed states’ rights to “define marriage in a traditional way” while insisting he was not bigoted against gay people. No sitting Republican senator has supported gay marriage since former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) lost in 2006.

Portman’s timing is apt; in less than two weeks, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. Since the law was passed in 1996, 22 senators who voted for it have since called for its repeal. Former President Bill Clinton recently disowned the law he signed and called for the court to strike it down. In his op-ed, Portman stressed that he still thinks marriage should be left up to the states without “judicial intervention from Washington.”

Portman said he will not “take a leadership role” to bring other Republican lawmakers around to marriage equality. Will Portman tweeted this morning, “Especially proud of my dad today.”

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