PDT Staff Writer
Republican Senator Rob Portman has reversed his stance on gay marriage.
Portman is now supporting gay marriage and says his reversal on the issue began when he learned one of his sons is gay.
Ohio’s junior senator disclosed his change of heart in interviews with several Ohio newspapers and CNN. In an op-ed published Friday in The Columbus Dispatch he said the decision came after a lot of thought.
“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,” he wrote.
Scioto County Republican Party communications co-chairman Bryan Davis said he has been instructed to make no statement on the announcement by Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman that he now supports gay marriage, and to refer all media inquiries to Portman’s office. During a Friday afternoon telephone conversation with the Daily Times, Scioto County Republican Party Co-Chair Rodney Barnett did not comment on Portman’s announcement.
As a member of the House in 1996, Portman voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Portman said his views on gay marriage began changing in 2011 when his son, Will, then a freshman at Yale University, told his parents he was gay and that it wasn’t a choice but “part of who he was.” Portman said he and his wife, Jane, were very surprised but also supportive.
He said it prompted him to reconsider gay marriage from a different perspective, that of a father who wants all three of his children to have happy lives with people they love.
He said he talked to his pastor and to people on both sides of the gay marriage issue, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is opposed to gay marriage, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who supports it. Cheney’s daughter is a lesbian.
Ohio’s other U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said he welcomes Portman’s new stance.
“I’m glad Sen. Portman has joined the growing majority of Americans who support full civil rights for our gay and lesbian family, friends, and neighbors. Practicing family values is about loving all of God’s children,” Brown said. “I look forward to working with him to ensure that all Americans have the ability to marry regardless of whom they love or where they live.”
Brown is a long-time supporter of marriage equality. He is one of just eight sitting senators who voted against the controversial Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 – during his service as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Last month, Brown met with members of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) from across Ohio to discuss the issues affecting the lives of millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans – including marriage equality, school safety, and an end to workplace discrimination. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Brown joined an amicus brief asking the Court to overturn the law. DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, also denies LGBT couples many of the federal benefits and protections that other married couples enjoy.
The brief, submitted by more than 200 members of Congress, comes in addition to bipartisan briefs filed by the Obama administration, more than 300 companies, and 75 current and former legislators and government officials. It emphasizes that the federal government has no legitimate interest in denying married same-sex couples the rights and benefits afforded to other married couples.
Portman told reporters Thursday that his previous views on marriage were rooted in his Methodist faith.
“Ultimately, for me, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God,” he wrote.
The well-known Ohio conservative, a former U.S. trade representative and White House budget chief, was considered but not chosen as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate. Portman told the newspapers Romney was informed about Will’s sexuality last year.
Portman’s reversal comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this month in a challenge to a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Portman said he would like Congress to repeal the provision of the DOMA that bans federal recognition of gay marriage, though he still supports the part of the law that says states should not be forced to recognize such marriages.
A group working to overturn Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage praised Portman’s comments.
Portsmouth First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson, a staunch supporter of gay marriage, said he welcomes Portman’s comments.
“It’s a big step, and quite honestly, especially amongst conservatives, whether it be Dick Cheney or others who have found that this affects their family, that has primarily been the way minds have changed,” Johnson said. “It’s not to be critical, but it concerns me when a person’s entity does not extend past their immediate family. He was very honest, which I appreciate. As humans we tend to, we focus on an issue when it directly affects our family.”
Johnson said it is not just a gay issue.
“It could be cancer research, when a wife or daughter gets breast cancer, for example. It could be if we had another ice storm then our local representative (who may have previously opposed to asking for federal funds) would actually vote for federal funds for reconstruction,” Johnson said.
Johnson and his partner, Paul Johnson, who died on March 20, 2009, were married on January 1, 1988 in Key West, Florida.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.