It’s kind of sad that there’s no empathy or common sense for the support of the civil right of gays and lesbians to marry until the issue smacks you in the face when a loved one comes out to you. But I’ll take the reality check — the act of coming out, as I’ve said many times before, is the most powerful bit of activism one can do. And Will Portman did just that — he came out to his dad, Senator Rob Portman, who has been on the record supporting both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment during his career.

And the father saw the light. Chris Geidner @ Buzzfeed:

“I’m announcing today a change of heart,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said Thursday in announcing his support for the right of same-sex couples to marry — a change he said came about after his son came out to him. In a video released by CNN, Portman described the process that led to Thursday’s announcement.

“During my career in the House and also the last couple of years here in the Senate, I’ve taken a position against gay marriage, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition,” he said. “I had a very personal experience, which is that my son came to Jane, my wife, and I and said he was gay and that it was not a choice, and that’s just part of who he is and he’d been that way for as long as he could remember.”

After Will, who is now 21, came to him, Portman said he went through “a process of changing my position on the issue,” concluding, “I now believe that [gay] people ought to have the right to get married.”

The CNN video:

The Log Cabin Republicans were quick out of the gate with a statement. Gregory T. Angelo, LCR’s Executive Director:

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.

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.

And in case you’re wondering — Rob Portman was on Mitt Romney’s short list for veep — and the senator did tell Mittens about his son.

Portman, who was ultimately passed over as the GOP vice-presidential candidate in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan, said the fact that his son is gay was not the deal breaker for Romney. How does he know? “Well, because they told me,” said Portman.

Yeah, right. But that clown got trounced, so let’s move along.

This definitely puts pressure on the GOP to figure out just what kind of tack to take on the issue of same-sex marriage, but what does mean for, say, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)? Surely if Portman supports the right of his child to marry, shouldn’t he lead the charge to pass legislation that would make it illegal for his son to be fired or discriminated against in employment because Will is gay?


One of the ironies that comes up in light of this news is the fact that there is a conservative out gay man who is mulling a challenge to, of all people, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in 2014. Bruce Carroll of GayPatriot blog fame, will soon decide whether to take on Graham, but his position on marriage equality puts him to the right of Portman.  Chris Geidner:

 Rather than taking a position like conservative lawyer Ted Olson has taken in challenging California’s Proposition 8, Carroll takes a more socially conservative view.

“I have been uncomfortable with the attempts to redefine marriage, and here’s why: I think a church or religious institution should have the freedom or liberty to have the ceremonies they want in their own church or denomination.” He did say, however, that some states have done a good job at trying to address that concern, noting, “I think the New Hampshire law is very good in its religious liberty protections. I would favor civil unions with very strong religious protections language.”

Where does that leave Carroll on New Hampshire’s marriage equality law?

“If my only choice, as a voter, was to vote for marriage with strong religious liberty protections, I would do that, too. My preference would be civil unions over redefining marriage, but I would vote for marriage with very strong religious liberty protections. I think it’s a states’ issue; I fundamentally think the voters should have a say in the matter, whether it’s a direct vote or through their legislature; and I’m uncomfortable with courts mandating this because it is such an important issue — not only for gays, but for religious liberty reasons.”

This is all a hot mess for the GOP. Right now at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the issues of LGBT rights and party inclusion are a hot debate, even as GOProud again has been off the guest list. But the group was in the house in the form of a standing-room-only panel discussion on Thursday, A “Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” (Photo from the event by Kaelee Pines via Facebook). MSNBC:

Speaking in a tiny but packed conference room just down the hall from the main CPAC stage, GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia urged activists to help the group broaden its reach within the Republican Party…LaSalvia also emphasized that pro-gay GOP activists should not reject Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage — but he did skewer those within the party who he said “just don’t like gay people.”  “And in 2013, that’s just not OK in America anymore. Because gay people are in every family. Every community. Every circle of friends,” he said.


Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding