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 | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • Fallis Hamilton

    haha i would have beaten him until he says he is corrupt by te gay federation to do this in their favour.

  • Antoine

    What family will his son have now?? xD it seems that he is the last one in the family that will have experienced what family really means. lol

  • Steve

    I am gay and this is not our end point, we also want to fuck other non-gay people in the ass to give them aids xD. joking. but I believe your comment is kind of rude man, not all gay people want this, there might possibly be some that really feel good in presence of same sex people.

  • Harlem Shake

    What makes it rough? Why would they need marriage? THey can fuck in the ass without it. A man cannot have kids from another man, the same way a woman cannot have kids with another woman, and I think this is why they should not have the right to adopt kids, they are not prepared for that and never will be.

  • Steve

    What you just said there is a little rough, but the fact that this is their ultimate goal doesn’t mean that they do not need rights to marry. This is what they are fighting for.

  • George

    they can have their right to fuck in the ass all day long, but not to traumatize kids with their acts… this has to be clear. as long as they wont adopt kids, nothing is wrong with them. i just feel bad for the kids.

  • Flagento

    thanks deer* xD

  • Harlem Shake

    why so much story around gayss?? theyre just mans who want to fuck other mans in the ass and womansthat want to fuck other womans with a dildo.

  • DonewithDems

    Well said! Over at Towleroad the commenters are all beating up on the people pointing out Sen. Portman’s self-serving revelation. I’m glad he supports his son. Do I think he really supports the LGBT community. Not really. He didn’t bother until it affected a family member. And then he places conditions on that support by saying that the judicial process should not be engaged. He still doesn’t get how humiliating it is to have other people vote on your personal civil rights.

  • http://twitter.com/JafafaHots Jafafa Hots

    Had to wait until after the election.

  • http://twitter.com/JafafaHots Jafafa Hots

    Let’s just hope his son needs an abortion some day.

  • UncleBucky

    That good ol’ wry smile. ~ Down on one side and up on the other. And depending with which “eye” you look at him, HE AGREES WITH YOU! Hahaha!

  • Sweetie

    The other thing is that this “close to home” thing is especially powerful precisely because it’s a matter of family values.

    Portman’s behavior is a big threat to the haters precisely because he chose family over politics.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    True enough.

  • Sweetie

    You may not like it, but it’s a fact that rights only exist for minorities when the majority decides it’s in their interest to provide them. This is like the way the Ohio smoking ban mainly was adopted at the behest of insurance companies rather than people who genuinely cared about the reduced life quality smoking around kids and such (which smokers do all the time) entails. Sometimes we have to be real about the fact that many victories come from imperfect sources.

    This is a big victory. The tide is changing in our direction. It’s better that it’s a Portman and not a “liberal” senator, even though the “liberal” senator may have expressed his thoughts in a more appropriate way.

  • Sweetie

    He went a long way with this announcement. If you were to live in Ohio, I think you’d have a better feel for how big this actually is.

  • Sweetie

    Ok, I may be the most cynical person who posts here, but I’m here to say one thing:

    Quit bitching.

    Be glad this happened. The end of John’s post gets it right. This is a big deal.

  • UncleBucky

    Well, in those two years without Portman weighing in for his son: How many bullying cases? How many suicides? How many “oh, they’re just boys” evaluations? How many Exocus attempts? How many people live in fear of being outed?

    I ain’t beatin you up. Rather, I am simply stating facts to balance any over-lauditory comments for Portman (Rob). Now for Will, bravo, kid, but you should have come out to the public AFTER your Dad didn’t make this announcement two years ago. Just saying…

  • UncleBucky

    Government Interference: “IOKIYAR” hahaha. That’s about it.

  • UncleBucky

    I agree. I would have wasted time and effort to come up with smth only 10% as good. Bravo.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh I agree, as I noted, dad still doesn’t completely get it. But he’s done pretty well in 2 years compared to a lot of “liberal” parents.

  • Hue-Man

    Consider the political landscape over the past few years – the Prop 8 case with no experts to justify discrimination and the one witness who ended up agreeing with the gay marriage side, the sweep in favor of marriage equality in the state ballot initiatives, the laughable SCOTUS briefs filed by the anti-gay side, even the David Cameron example quoted in his op-ed. Political leaders are ahead of their fellow political crowd but behind the voters (politicians whose only goal is to make money are never in the lead). Portman the politician has weighed the pros and cons and decided that there is political hay to be made on marriage equality. He now provides political cover for the “sheep” who have done the same political calculations.

    I blame Yale and all those liberal colleges that turn true blue women-loving heterosexual high school graduates into 100% “homosexuals” in less than 2 years. GRIN. Welcome to the gayborhood, Will Portman.

  • nicho

    Unless Sean’s father was a public official voting on public policy, it’s apples and oranges.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Sean’s father wouldn’t come to his wedding…and mine wanted to have me killed. I still stand by my remarks below. Summed up as, “Thanks, Rob, good for you, but you still don’t see the big picture, the one beyond what you now want for your own son.”

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Thanks dear.

  • Zorba

    Exactly. Different rules for “you” than for “me.”

  • Zorba

    Yes, yes, and good for Portman and all that. But- and it’s a big “but”- I’m less than impressed with those who were against gay marriage in the first place having a change of heart because it impacts their immediate family. I’m glad that he has evolved (even if it took him two years after his son came out), but I just wish that those conservatives who have “evolved” because of their own kids’ orientations would have long ago had some goddamned human feelings and sympathy for those gay couples who have wanted to get married for many, many years, as well as the families of those gay couples who supported their offspring in their quest to be able to get legally married. I guess what I’m saying is, good for him, but too little, too late.

  • http://libertyviewmagazine.net/ Tod Westlake

    Indeed. And I especially love the part of Portman’s op-ed in which he leaves it up to the states to decide whether his son has the right to be a human being.

    “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.”

    What a swell guy.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I added to the post a comment by my friend Sean Bugg, the editor of Metro Weekly, who just posted this comment on Facebook:

    “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.”

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Excellent!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    He’ll develop a Cheney smirk.

  • Houndentenor

    Just wait. He’s about to feel the religious right hate machine in full force and will evolve quite a bit more very quickly.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    A few thoughts– I have the usual mixed feelings about this ‘evolution’ from Rob Portman. Positive, as in, “Great. Welcome to the 21st century, Rob Portman, and kudos for letting go of your partisan-motivated anti-gay bigotry.” Then right on the heels of that: “So you couldn’t change your position because it was the right thing to do, but only after it affected you and your family personally. Don’t you think that’s rather selfish? Is this how it will be for every potentially progressive attitude for you, only if it’s in your own best interest will you support it? Do you have to have an unplanned or health-risking pregnancy somewhere in your family before you’ll come out in favor of women’s reproductive freedoms?”

    So then he says he supports ‘democratic’ state-based action, rather than judicial intervention. This flies in the face of what we already know when it comes to guaranteeing or advancing civil rights for oppressed minorities. Federal-level judicial intervention is how we achieve sweeping and significant change. Legislative action is how we see some progress, but it is usually filled with crippling compromises (the DADT repeal, for example). The “democratic process” is code for letting the majority decide whether a minority can have civil rights, and that consistently has been the go-to strategy for those who do not want the minority to receive any protections at all.

    His remarks about how a judicial decision would “deepen divisions” as opposed to the increasingly patchwork state-based snail’s pace of change are also rubbish. For every progressive state finally getting around to passing marriage equality, or some quasi-marriage separate-but-unequal version of it, another conservative state passes their own version of DOMA or attempts to write it into their state constitution. Essentially, without federal intervention — which, given the current political status of our current government, realistically will only come from the judiciary — we’ll remain much as we were in the 1950s, when a few states allowed interracial marriage and others outlawed it. Except it’s worse now for gay and lesbian couples because at least back then the Feds recognized the legal interracial marriages. Does anyone here believe Congress will itself repeal DOMA anytime soon? Of course not. A SCOTUS overturning is just about the only hope we’ve got for at least the next several gerrymandered election cycles.

    In short, when it comes to civil rights and justice, who gives a flying frig whether it ‘deepens divides’? Justice delayed is justice denied and it shouldn’t matter whether some fraction — or even a majority — of people don’t like it or it offends their sensibilities. And essentially, what Portman is saying is, “Yes, this is the right thing to do, but not too fast and not everywhere at once. Let’s just think about the idea that marriage equality is a good thing and not be in such a hurry to do anything about it.”

  • fentwin

    My guess is only if it directly involves his family. Otherwise the rest of us are just prols who count for nothing.

  • nicho

    Oh, cool, the Phantom BarryBot has been by to vote this down.

  • nicho

    The operative word here is “claim.”

  • nicho

    Bully for him.

  • nicho

    I was, of course, being facetious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I agree with the sentiment (although I’ve never liked the careless use of the term “evolve” in this fashion.)

  • jomicur

    There are extinct creatures in the fossil record that evolved faster than Obama,

  • Krusher

    But he finally did.

  • http://libertyviewmagazine.net/ Tod Westlake

    Portman is a hypocrite. It took him two years to acknowledge his son’s humanity.

  • samizdat

    “…minimal government interference in people’s lives.”

    So, I suppose that he will soon be issuing statements about changing his mind about abortion access, torture, renditions, Guantanamo, assassination (murder) of American citizens (and others, for that matter), government secrecy/transparency…

  • nicho

    Well, he evolved a lot quicker than Barry Obama.

  • bkmn

    Why do the republicans think that the Supreme Court has no right to overturn laws that overstep the Constitution (that they claim to care so much about)?

  • http://fighttherightwingnuts.blogspot.com/ mike31c

    I’d be more impressed if you were not an asshole in the first place.

  • Jim

    Portman needs to evolve again. He is definitely wrong about a favorable Supreme Court ruling though! I guess politicians can’t stop being politicians, even when their own kids freedom and equality are concerned.

  • caphillprof

    Neither did Romney.

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