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March 22, 2013

Portman is the first GOP senator to back marriage equality

Washington, D.C.--Tally Ohio’s entire Senate contingent among same-sex marriage supporters with the announcement from Sen. Rob Portman that he now favors the nuptials.

Portman told reporters that after his son Will came out to him in 2011, he began a process that resulted in a shift in his position. He is the first Republican senator to favor marriage equality.

Portman was one of the front-runners for the vice presidential spot on the Republican ticket last year, which might have given Mitt Romney the state’s electoral college votes, but something in the vetting process derailed his being asked. This was possibly his son’s sexual orientation.

Portman’s Senate web page says that he “favors a democratic process at the state level to recognize same-sex couples’ ability to marry,” although he worries that too broad a Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming DOMA and Prop. 8 cases “would run the risk of deepening current divisions rather than resolving them.”

His change in position was announced in a March 15 opinion piece in the Columbus Dispatch.

“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,” Portman wrote. “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,” he continued, before positing that biblical “overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God” won out over narrower views espoused by many of his colleagues.

Portman also points out conservative arguments for same-sex marriage, including those put forward by British Prime Minister David Cameron. “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.”

During the time his position on same-sex marriage was changing, however, Portman continued to cast anti-gay votes in the Senate, supporting a move to strip protections for LGBT people and Native Americans from the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, as well as supporting a filibuster against the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador. Sen. Jim DeMint said Carmen wrote a pro-gay article that should disqualify her from being an ambassador.

Ohio’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, has long been a supporter of LGBT equality, including marriage.

Their fellow Ohioan, House Speaker John Boehner of Cincinnati, won’t be changing his position on marriage. He told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz in an interview, “I believe that marriage is the union of one man, one woman. It’s what I grew up with, it’s what I believe, it’s what my church teaches me. And I can’t imagine that position would ever change.”

Sen. John McCain, who lost a White House bid in 2008, also said he will not be changing his position, despite his daughter and wife pushing for the GOP to change its stance on same-sex marriage.

“Senator Portman spoke out for fairness this morning and we heard him,” Equality Ohio posted in their newsfeed. “His message came from the heart and mind of a loving father: He wants his son to have the same opportunities as the rest of his family . . . Together, we will make Ohio the kind of place Rob Portman describes.”

Freedom Ohio, which is working on a state constitutional amendment to allow same-sex marriage in Ohio, also praised Portman.

“The honorable U.S. Sen. Portman is the first Republican member of the United States Senate to endorse the freedom to marry, but we believe he will not be the last,” said Freedom Ohio co-founder Ian James. “We are moved by the love and support U.S. Sen. Portman and his wife are showing their son. We appreciate the fact that the Senator wants his son to be able to marry and form a family to find the same happiness and security as his parents.”

National organizations chimed in as well, approving of the senator’s coming out, as it were.

“Like countless dads across the country, Senator Portman has made the basic and courageous choice to put parenting before politics,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “When it comes to marriage equality, all Americans are on the same journey toward recognizing our common humanity. But while eight in ten 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.”

Among the many comments was one with a little more weight:

“Especially proud of my dad today,” tweeted Will Portman.

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