Rob Portman's Gay-Marriage Reversal

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 15 2013 10:13 AM

Rob Portman's Gay-Marriage Reversal Was Prompted by His Son Coming Out to Him

Sen. Rob Portman surprised many in his party with his reversal on gay marriage.
Sen. Rob Portman surprised many in his party with his reversal on gay marriage.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Rob Portman, previously a staunch opponent of gay marriage, has had a change of heart, writing in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed this morning that he now believes that "all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage." In Portman's case, he means that quite literally: His son, Will, came out to him in 2011, prompting the senator to rethink his position.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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.
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Portman, said to have been on Mitt Romney's short-list for VP candidates last year, writes that ultimately when he came to reconciling his Christian faith with his love for his son, "it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God." Nonetheless, don't look for Portman to introduce a bill in the Senate to allow gays and lesbians to walk down the aisle, or for him to lobby the Supreme Court to take matters into its own hands:

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.

Weigel with the instant analysis: "Up to now, a lot of the Republicans making bold strides toward gay marriage were consultants (whose corporate work would benefit from the stance) or retired pols. Portman is one of the acknowledged thought leaders of the congressional party." You can read the full op-ed here.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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