Rob Portman, left, said his son, Will, 21, told him and his wife Jane two years ago that he was gay. Will is a junior attending Yale.
An announcement by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) that he now supports same-sex marriage was met with gratitude from those who have been pushing for expansion of the state’s marriage law, now defined as between a man and woman.
David Mann, a Toledo lawyer and member of the group Equality Toledo, said the Republican congressman’s change of heart shows that “marriage equality” is no longer a partisan issue.
“Hopefully it opens the door to other senators, Republican and Democrat, to look at this issue again and come out on the side of fairness,” Mr. Mann said.
Breaking with the official stance of the Republican Party, Mr. Portman said his son’s revelation that he is gay led the congressman to change his mind on the subject.
In a statement late Thursday night, Mr. Portman justified that decision both politically and religiously.
Although he supported the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, Mr. Portman said he no longer supports an “expansive” federal law to determine marriage policy in the United States, but rather said he believes it should be left up to the states.
Mr. Portman is the first Republican senator to endorse same-sex marriage, and his stance adds a new wrinkle to the emerging field of potential 2016 presidential contenders.
Those possibilities could include Mr. Portman.
“Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife Jane and me that he was 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 was,” Mr. Portman said in a statement.
Will Portman, 21, is a junior at Yale University.
A spokesman for Mr. Portman said that conversation took place two or three months before Mr. Portman was picketed at the University of Michigan in March, 2011, over his continued support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Mr. Portman did not respond to interview requests on Friday after his appearance on CNN in the morning. His spokesman, Jeff Sadosky said Mr. Portman had left the state for a weekend with his sons.
Phil Burress, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage in Ohio and president of Citizens for Community Values, said Mr. Portman called him on Thursday night to alert him about his new position.
Mr. Burress said Mr. Portman’s new stance was “sad” and was because of his inability to tell the truth about homosexuality to his son.
He said it wouldn’t make any difference, and predicted that Ohioans would still vote down a so-called “marriage equality” question if supporters are able to place it on a statewide ballot.
Republican political strategist Robert Clegg of Columbus said Mr. Portman’s new stance was being seen as heartfelt, rather than a cynical political calculation, and that it isn’t likely to be a big issue in 2016. "I think the vast majority of people are going to be voting on economic issues or foreign policy," Mr. Clegg said.
But David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said Mr. Portman’s new position on an issue that social conservatives feel strongly about won’t help him get the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, if he decides to try that.
“The Republican Party has not really moved at all on this issue. As far as getting through the primary process it doesn’t help him at all in places like Iowa. Republicans there are very conservative,” Mr. Cohen said.
Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett said Mr. Portman has the right to his own opinion on the subject, even though the party’s platform opposes same-sex marriage, and said it does not undermine his claim to be a conservative. “The Ohio Republican Party is a big tent. We welcome people holding a wide range of opinions on issues,” Mr. Bennett said.
In his statement, Mr. Portman said he was surprised by his son’s revelation and that it started him thinking harder about the issue.
“Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he was 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.
“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,” Mr. Portman wrote.
He said his opposition to same-sex marriage was “rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.”
He said he rethought his Christian position and then decided the Bible came down to “overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.’’
“Knowing that my son was 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,” Mr. Portman said.
Mr. Portman said he supported the Defense of Marriage Act but that public attitudes have changed, 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,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said, "I’m glad Senator Portman has joined the growing majority of Americans who support full civil rights for our gay and lesbian families, friends, and neighbors."
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in the Defense of Marriage Act and Mr. Brown has joined an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the law.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.