WASHINGTON -- Senator Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) announcement earlier this month that he supports same-sex marriage was a profound moment in the gay rights movement -- not only because Portman became the lone Senate Republican to back marriage equality, but also because it signaled to other Republicans that you can move on the issue and still be accepted by your party.
Portman didn’t instantaneously become a pariah in the ranks. Instead, his colleagues said they were fine with his decision, primarily because it was made as a family matter. Portman’s son is gay and convinced his father that gay couples should have the same rights to marriage as straight ones do.
On Monday morning, in an Op-ed for his college newspaper the Yale Daily News, Will Portman explained the chronology and process behind his dad’s decision to drop his opposition to same-sex marriage.
I started talking to my dad more about being gay. Through the process of my coming out, we’d had a tacit understanding that he was my dad first and my senator a distant second. Eventually, though, we began talking about the policy issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.
The following summer, the summer of 2012, my dad was under consideration to be Gov. Romney’s running mate. The rest of my family and I had given him the go-ahead to enter the vetting process. My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we’d be open about it on the campaign trail.
When he ultimately wasn’t chosen for the ticket, I was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign. Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.
We had decided that my dad would talk about having a gay son if he were to change his position on marriage equality. It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart. Besides, the fact that I was gay would probably become public anyway. I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position, but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me.
That Sen. Portman would evolve on gay marriage after mulling over the matter with his son makes logical sense. But not everyone in the party has said they’d be open to change if they found out a loved one was gay.
"Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC’s "This Week" when asked about such a hypothetical. "All right. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change."