Republican with gay son reverses his view on marriage

Senator speaks out ahead of Supreme Court considering changes to Defence of Marriage Act
  • @timwalker

A Republican Senator who was shortlisted to be Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential running mate has come out in support of gay marriage after learning that his own son is gay. Rob Portman, 57, of Ohio, announced his policy reversal and the personal reasons behind it in interviews with CNN and several newspapers in his home state.

His decision has brought support from both sides of the aisle, but not from everyone in the conservative camp. A spokesman for the National Organisation for Marriage (NOM) yesterday accused the Senator of “shrinking the size of the GOP tent”.

Senator Portman said his 21-year-old son Will, a junior at Yale University, had come out to him and his wife Jane in February 2011. “It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have – to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In an op-ed for the Friday edition of the Columbus Dispatch, Portman wrote: “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.”

In 1996, as a congressman, Portman voted in favour of the Defence of Marriage Act. The Senator’s  unexpected news comes just a fortnight before the Supreme Court is due to consider changes to the Act, and to the controversial Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California. “I thought it was the right time to let folks know where I stand,” he said.

As a potential candidate for the vice-presidency, Portman says he was heavily vetted by the 2012 Romney campaign, and informed Romney at the time that his son was gay.

He is the only sitting Republican senator to publicly support marriage equality. Among those he consulted before making his decision public was Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, whose daughter Mary is gay. Portman said Cheney advised him to “follow [his] heart” on the issue.

Many conservative voters, however, remain staunchly opposed to gay marriage.