Last night, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a conservative Republican and 2012 GOP vice presidential frontrunner, announced that he was reversing his longtime and outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage and coming out as a supporter of marriage equality. In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Portman revealed that his change of heart was brought about by his 21-year-old son Will, who came out to his parents as gay two years ago.
Portman’s surprising reversal makes him the first sitting Republican senator in history to support the freedom to marry. It is additionally significant because during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2005), Portman voted to support the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and a proposed constitutional marriage discrimination amendment in 2004.
Only two sitting House Republicans, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York, have come out in support of marriage equality, according to a report from BuzzFeed‘s Chris Geidner. The two representatives signed on to a Supreme Court brief filed last month arguing that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.
In an op-ed published today by the Columbus Dispatch, Portman explained that his son’s coming-out initiated a soul-searching reexamination of his deeply held spiritual beliefs:
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.
I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.
You know, Sen. Portman’s journey to embracing his LGBT child and publicly advocating for his son’s rights reminds me an awful lot of the journey my own parents took after I came out to them in 2003. It just goes to show that, as Harvey Milk said, coming out is the single most important thing LGBT people can do in the struggle for our civil rights and human dignity. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to Will Portman for courageously revealing his truth to his parents and giving them the opportunity to love him in the fullness of his identity.
Thank you Will, and thank you, Senator Portman, for coming out for marriage equality. In 2013, stating one’s belief in basic fairness for all loving and committed couples shouldn’t have to be an act of bravery, but in today’s Republican Party it absolutely (and tragically) still is. I hope that Portman’s colleagues, several of whom are rumored to be privately supportive of same-sex marriage, will follow his courageous example and make that support known publicly. I also hope that the Senator’s evolution on LGBT issues will continue even further, and that his next major reversal will be that of his longstanding opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — because in addition to the freedom to marry, his gay son deserves to be free from discrimination in hiring and at work.
Senator Portman and I disagree on nearly every issue, but on the fundamental right of all Americans to marry the person they love, I’m proud to say that we stand side by side.