Conservative GOP US Senator Portman: My son is gay, I’m for gay marriage

GOP Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) on CNN has come out for gay marriage, all because his son Will, who’s a junior at Yale, came out to him as gay two years ago.

Portman was against gay marriage, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), voted to ban gays from adopting in Washington, DC, and supported a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  Now he’s changed his mind, all because his son Will had the courage to come out to dad.

UPDATE: Conference-goers at the annual CPAC conference today – the biggest and most important conservative/GOP conference of the year – wasted no time in blasting Portman being having a gay son (it’s Portman’s “fault”), and for “agreeing with sodomy.”

I don’t know if this young man fully appreciates how many people he’s helped by coming out.  But thank you.  The next time the Senate has to vote on something dealing with gay issues, every Senator in that room is going to be thinking of Senator Portman and his son. It doesn’t mean they’ll all vote the right way, but this young man just made any future vote extremely personal for every one of them.  That’s worth a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign, the impact this guy has had.

Richard Socarides weighs in on the courage Will Portman showed coming out to his dad:

The real example of courage in this story, however, comes from Portman’s son Will, who is twenty-one years old. Will Portman came out to his parents over two years ago. Imagine what it was like to be a Yale freshman (as he was at the time), coming to terms with your sexual orientation and having to come out to your father, one of the most prominent conservative members of the national political party that has historically been identified with opposing the rights of the group to which you now belong. (I remember how it felt to come out as the gay son of a prominent anti-gay psychiatrist.) Then imagine, after sharing this intimate part of yourself with your parents, watching your father be publicly vetted for Vice-President on the ticket of someone whose anti-gay-rights views were being widely reported on.

It’s always amazing to me the power of simply coming out to people and telling them your story.  I remember asking my parents why they were being so good about me being gay, and why they didn’t believe all the bad stuff that the religious right says about gays.  Their answer: You’re our son.

Just wow.

Will and Rob Portman, family photo via CNN.

Will and Rob Portman, family photo via CNN.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay,” said Portman.

Will Portman told his father and mother he is gay two years ago, when he was a freshman at Yale University.

“My son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice, and that it’s just part of who he is, and that’s who he’d been that way for as long as he could remember,” said Portman.

Just as fascinating is all the publicity Senator Portman is doing around this issue.  He was just on CNN, and he wrote an op ed in the local paper in Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch, about his decision – that’s not the kind of thing you do unless you really are trying to make amends, and help. Sadly, in that op ed, the Senator comes out against us winning in the Supreme Court later this month.

The process of citizens persuading fellow citizens is how consensus is built and enduring change is forged. That’s why I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.

Here’s the problem.  You don’t put your son’s humanity up for a vote.  The Senator himself acknowledged that he had the issue all wrong until he got the facts from his son.  Up until then, the Democratic process wasn’t working for his son.

Having said that, you can’t expect parents, even good parents, to come around immediately.  Senator Portman, coming around from a conservative anti-gay Republican, to publicly endorsing marriage equality, in only two years, is pretty darn good.  My friend Sean Bugg, the editor of Metro Weekly, just mentioned this on Facebook – he gave me permission to repost:

Sean Bugg, editor of Metro Weekly.

Sean Bugg, editor of Metro Weekly.

For those who think Sen. Portman is too little, too late, I’d point out this personal bit of information: Portman has known his son is gay for two years, and now supports marriage equality. My father has known I’m gay for about 25 years, yet didn’t come to my wedding because he just doesn’t “believe in that.” I’m cutting Portman a little slack.

More from Portman’s op ed:

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.

One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution….

I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples. As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.

Interestingly, CNN says that Portman told Romney that his son was gay when they were vetting him as a possible VP.  Portman didn’t get the job.  Romney told him that wasn’t why he didn’t get the job.  I cry bull.  It may not have been 100% of the reason why, but there is no way that Mitt Romney was going to select a vice president who had a gay kid at Yale, and who was clearly having doubts about the party’s anti-gay orthodoxy.  Romney wouldn’t have wanted the headache of having to explain why he thought his VP’s own son was a lesser human being.  So I don’t buy Romney’s claim for a minute.  It might not have ben the “only” thing that didn’t get Portman the job, but it absolutely positively had to be a factor.  Romney didn’t want the headache.

Richard Socarides shares some of my skepticism about the claim that this issue didn’t influence Romney’s VP pick:

There is another question, though. One can’t help wondering if having a gay son cost Portman a spot on the G.O.P. Presidential ticket. He told reporters that he disclosed the fact to the Romney campaign when he was vetted, and said they told him it was not an issue. He wouldn’t have been the first; Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian. Beth Myers, Mitt Romney’s most trusted aide and the person he tapped to oversee his Vice-Presidential selection process, is a signatory to the Ken Mehlman-inspired amicus brief from Republican Party leaders to the Supreme Court in favor of overturning Proposition 8. That said, Portman was not selected, and Paul Ryan, whose role was, in part, to reassure conservatives that Romney was no moderate, was.

UPDATE: Mike Signorile asked uber-conservative Senator Jim Inhofe, who once famously said there are no gays in his extended family, about Portman’s revelation today. Inhofe sounded a bit stunned.

UPDATE: Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post says it’s over, we’ve won:

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s announcement that he had decided to give up his opposition to gay marriage — a decision prompted, at least in part, by the fact that one of his sons is gay — is the latest in a series of moves that make one thing crystal clear: the political debate on gay marriage is effectively over.

Portman is a pillar of the political establishment – he held two different Cabinet posts in George W. Bush’s Administration – served in the House, and was widely mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick. That someone with his profile — his own personal circumstances notwithstanding — would reverse positions in such a high-profile way tells you much about how the politics of the issue are shifting….

Politically speaking, the writing is on the wall when it comes to gay marriage. It will — and is — becoming an issue that remains very important to a segment of the Republican base and one that in certain situations can animate that base to action. But it simply is not an issue that Republican politicians aspiring to national office will talk much about in 2016 and beyond.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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