Rob Portman had a “change of heart” about gay marriage when he learned that his own son is gay, and political experts think his personal shift on the issue could signal a larger event in the debate over same-sex matrimony.
The Ohio Senator recently told CNN that after the GOP was beaten resoundingly in November’s election, he re-evaluated his stance on the issues.
But the change of heart for Portman ultimately came from a very personal place — his own son. Portman revealed that his 21-year-old son Will came out as gay two years ago, and that he can no longer justify voting against gay marriage.
“I’m announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples’ opportunity to marry,” Portman said, adding, “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’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay.”
Portman’s reversal on gay marriage has been immediately hailed by LGBT advocates and political experts as a major blow against the already weakened opposition to gay marriage. Though opposition to same-sex marriage and defense of “traditional marriage” was once seen as a pre-requisite for GOP leaders, a growing number have gone the way of Portman.
Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza predicts that while opposition to gay marriage may remain, it will simply fade away as an issue leaders are willing to talk about. He believes the next generation of GOP leaders — which includes Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan — will change they way they talk about gay marriage or only bring in up when speaking to the Republican base.
The very fact that Portman went public with his “change of heart” is itself a step toward greater acceptance. In the past, Republicans with conflicting views on gay marriage — like Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is gay — simply didn’t speak on the issue.
“People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into,” Cheney said in a 2000 vice presidential debate with Joe Lieberman, one of the few times Cheney expressed his views on the issue. “It’s no one’s business.”
Rob Portman isn’t the only one to have change of heart on gay marriage. In anticipation of a Supreme Court challenge of California’s gay marriage ban, more than 75 Republicans signed a letter supporting marriage rights for all Americans. Many of those who signed on had spoken out against gay marriage in the past.