Republican Senator Rob Portman Changes His Stance On Gay Marriage After His Son Comes Out As Gay


Today many folks are rejoicing because the first Republican Senator currently serving in the Senate has just come out in support of same-sex marriage. Interestingly enough, just as many people seem to be disappointed by the reasoning behind Senator Rob Portman’s change of heart and political position. He wrote an open letter in The Columbus Dispatch in which he credits his son, who came out as gay two years ago, as the reason he now advocates for came-sex marriage. Click inside to read the Senator’s letter in full.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman Comes Out In Support Of Same-Sex Marriage:

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.

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.

Well-intentioned people can disagree on the question of marriage for gay couples, and maintaining religious freedom is as important as pursuing civil marriage rights. For example, I believe that no law should force religious institutions to perform weddings or recognize marriages they don’t approve of.

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.

Over the past decade, nine states and the District of Columbia have recognized marriage for same-sex couples. It is understandable to feel cautious about making a major change to such an important social institution, but the experience of the past decade shows us that marriage for same-sex couples has not undercut traditional marriage. In fact, over the past 10 years, the national divorce rate has declined.

Ronald Reagan said all great change in America begins at the dinner table, and that’s been the case in my family. Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.

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.

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.

So, here’s the deal. A lot of people are just plain pissed that it took a personal experience within his own family for the Senator to change his position. Like, oh now it’s okay to be gay because your son is gay, but it wasn’t okay until you knew someone you loved was gay? Others say, whatever encouraged him to change his position is irrelevant, as long as change is taking place.

While I understand how this could be really frustrating, especially if you consider all of the people (and politicians) who do not have and will never have a gay child to inspire them (so to speak) as Portman’s son has. However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t see how this is a bad thing, or even something to cause concern. I’m someone who believes that most (if not all) of our political and social beliefs really are directly related to and informed by our personal experiences. Recently, I had one of those weird, random flashbacks to my childhood and suddenly remembered my mom taking me to a few poetry readings that her students put on in someone’s apartment in downtown Boston. Many of the women there were lesbians, they were all feminists, and the poetry reflected their experiences (political, personal, and otherwise); at 8 or 9 I was already being raised in a particular atmosphere and whether I liked it or not I was going to take a stance on certain things and… well… I was probably gonna attend Sarah Lawrence College, or a school like it. Lol. I wasn’t born a feminist, or a supporter of gay rights; I was ‘simply’ raised in an atmosphere that pretty much called for such thinking. Obviously, people deviate from the ways in which they were raised all the time, but I would still argue that their personal experiences contribute greatly to those deviations as well. In fact, Portman was most likely raised to believe what he used to believe; now a personal experience has taught him a new lesson.

So I definitely think my personal experiences inform many of my political views and I can’t hate on somebody, like Senator Rob Portman, for openly pointing to that correlation.

What do you guys think of the Senator’s letter and change in position? Oh, I forgot to add someone noted that this could totally be a political move of some sort– I guess that’s possible too, though I’m not sure how something like this would actually benefit a Republican, but okay.


  • EK

    I think his motives for publicly declaring his reversed stance on same-sex marriage are nothing but sincere. He points out the Republican party’s hypocritical stance on believing in “personal liberty and minimal government” yet the party still condemns just that very idea for anyone in opposition to the party’s beliefs (same-sex marriage, abortion, etc.). Many times people have a difficult time comprehending a situation and particular circumstance in which their lomg-cemented beliefs are put into question and need to be reevaluated for a new change. All in all, I commend Senator Portman on coming out (pun intended) in favor of same-sex marriage. Bravo! …another step in the right direction.

  • Krissy

    I think it is far easier to paint the “other” as something to be feared when it is this mythical thing that you don’t know or interact with. I am glad he changed his mind, no matter what the reason. The thing that gives me hope for true equality for all of our citizens is that diversity (in its many, many forms) IS spreading. As people get to know “other”, they will stop being afraid.

    One of my family members, who I have talked to about racism at length before, wasn’t converted by one of my talks. They were converted by their wonderful new hispanic neighbors who made delicious food and gave them shelter from the rain when they locked their keys inside their home. Prejudice just crumbled and fell a part in face of reality, not a stereotype. I think our country is blossoming right now, but not yet in full bloom.

  • Hannah

    I think for those of us who have always believed in same sex marriage it is easy to criticize him; however, I agree with you Shannon about experiences shaping us.

    This is a well thought out piece, where he admits he was wrong and eloquently states why conservatives are wrong when they deny people the right to marry. As a republican this is the harder position to take so I applaud him for that and hope people read this and start rethinking their opinion too.

  • Karen

    Of course it is always great when people recognize the humanity, equality, and worthiness of others, especially when it has taken them a long time to do so, or when they have to stand up to others in order to do so.

    At the same time, I do find it frustrating and disappointing that he couldn’t come to these realizations when “gay people” did not = his son. I hope that people who share that sort of limitation reflect on their lack of empathy and respect for people who are not related to them. (I have similar feelings about men who can’t muster up empathy or respect for women unless they specifically imagine their mother/daughter/wife/sister. It’s always great that they get there, but the route they need to take says something that disturbs me.)

    What I appreciate about Senator Portman’s statement is that he lays out (what should already be) the Republican argument and the religious argument for same sex marriage and equality. I think his articulation could help other Republicans find their way on this issue. I’m glad he went to the effort of making this case, rather than just saying “for personal reasons” or something. He offers Republicans a framework that can redirect them from the backwards path they’ve been on for so long.

    I’m also happy for his son that his father embraced him publicly, because the alternative is so painful for those who have to endure it.

  • JCZ

    It’s all freakin politics in the end… even the fake tan he should wipe off his face, that taxpayers probably paid for!

    But why wait 2 years since his son came out? Did he need further convincing by his own blood, to see if it was ‘just a phase’ and had to witness a committed relationship to be proven about the matter?

    It sucks. But it’s a tiresome argument. So at least change is happening.

  • Kelly

    even if you were raised in a strict conservative, christian home, you should be able to have the slightest bit of empathy for others and come to this realization without having to be “forced” into it. i was raised in a very socially conservative, very religious environment and it didn’t take long for me to disagree with that worldview because it’s so obviously wrong on this issue (and several others as well haha). it can take courage to challenge your childhood views but if that is what is needed, it’s what adults should be able to do. i find it sad and sort of shitty that he couldn’t come to this thinking on his own. just sad. however, i AM glad that perhaps his tardy realization will push others *without* gay children to really think about their how their views hurt other people.