WASHINGTON — Conservative U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), announced Thursday he has reversed his longtime opposition to same-sex marriage, saying he has evolved on the issue after learning two years ago that his now 21-year-old son, Will, is gay.
Portman said that his son, a junior at Yale University, told his that his sexual orientation was “not a choice,” and that he had been gay “since he could remember,” reported CNN.
“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,” Portman told reporters in an interview at his office.
“The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue,” Portman said, adding that he feels that “in a way, this strengthens the institution of marriage.”
Portman, 57, said his son “encouraged” him to be public about his change in position on same-sex marriage, and blessed the idea of publicly announcing his sexual orientation.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage … that I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay,” said Portman.
Portman said his decision to announce his new stance was not motivated by its potential political impact, and he was not sure what the fallout would be.
While in Congress, he has supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and voted for a bill prohibiting gay couples in Washington from adopting.
Now, with this announcement, Portman becomes the first Senate Republican to publicly support marriage equality.
“Like countless dads across the country, Senator Portman has made the basic and courageous choice to put parenting before politics,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.
“When it comes to marriage equality, all Americans are on the same journey toward recognizing our common humanity. But while 8 in 10 Americans know a gay or lesbian person, it still takes unique courage to speak out publicly for equality. We are very grateful to Senator Portman for his virtuous stand in support of this civil rights cause,” said Griffin.
Tyler Deaton, campaign manager of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, applauded Portman's change of heart.
"Senator Portman is the living, breathing future of the Republican Party right in front of our eyes. He's an authentic and consistent conservative who is showing the way to a more fiscally responsible and at the same time more socially tolerant GOP. His change of heart reflects the same thinking and feeling that many Republicans are showing as they get to know gay people and understand why marriage matters to them. We hope more of Senator Portman's Republican colleagues in Congress will join him in supporting the freedom to marry, as several have already done," Deaton said.
Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director, said Portman has gone on a journey just like many other Americans who learn they have gay children.
"We greatly appreciate Senator Portman's sharing his journey on the freedom to marry with his constituents and with the American people. It's a beautifully human experience for a father to listen with an open heart to his son, to reflect on his own beliefs, and conclude that he wants for his son the same opportunity for happiness that comes with being able to marry that he and his wife have had. We hope that Senator Portman's journey is an example that other Americans will look to as they reflect on their own position on the freedom to marry," Solomon said.
Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republican's executive director, was thrilled by the news.
"If there was any doubt that the conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples has broken, Senator Portman's support for the freedom to marry has erased it. Senator Portman's evolution on this issue highlights how personal it is for Americans — whether they're the Junior Senator from Ohio or your next-door neighbor, all Americans have a gay friend, colleague or family member, and understand them to be as deserving as their straight counterparts of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are the promise of the United States," he said.
"We also applaud and respect the Senator's decision as a person of faith who recognizes that there is a Christian case, as well as a conservative case for marriage equality. Log Cabin Republicans welcomes Senator Portman's support, and encourages his GOP colleagues in the Senate to join him on the right side of history," Angelo said.
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