LGBT’s new allies: The Gay Kid Converts

Gay rights didn't matter to Rob Portman, Dick Cheney and these other politicians and celebs -- until it hit home SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, LGBT, LGBT Rights, Gay Marriage, Marriage equality, Editor's Picks, Rob Portman, Dick Cheney, Cher, Gay Rights, ,

LGBT's new allies: The Gay Kid Converts Dick Cheney (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Salon)

Ohio’s Rob Portman made headlines on Friday as the first sitting Republican senator to back marriage equality in the Senate. But like so many other conservative lawmakers before him, the senator didn’t think much about the rights of gays and lesbians until the issue got personal.

For Portman, it was his 21-year-old son coming out as gay that “allowed” him to see the issue as 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.”

And just like that, Portman joined the ranks of the men and women who only realized that gay rights were important when their absence affected someone they love. Let’s call it the “gay kid convert” club; the Dick Cheneys, the Jon Huntsmans — and yes, even the Barack Obamas — who, after years of silence or fierce opposition, came around to equal rights through a gay child, friend or a close colleague.

Here’s a look at Portman and others who changed their tune when gay rights came home.

Think someone is missing? Leave their name in the comments.



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    Gay rights reversals

    Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman

    Sen. Portman attributed his political 180 to a “personal experience” with his gay son that allowed him to “think of this 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.”

    Credit: AP

    Gay rights reversals

    Jon Huntsman

    The former Republican presidential candidate and Utah governor told the New York Times that his position on marriage equality began to evolve after a 2007 incident in which the gay partner of a close friend was barred from the emergency room while his partner's son “lay dying.” Huntsman remarked that the experience profoundly changed him, explaining that “you can’t experience something like that without saying, ‘Where’s the fairness?’”

    Credit: AP

    Gay rights reversals

    President Barack Obama

    President Obama called his “evolving” position on gay marriage a product of personal reflection and many conversations with gay friends – and his young daughters – about love and fairness. After years of renouncing a pro-marriage-equality statement in 1996, he used his second inaugural address to publicly declare his support, saying, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

    Credit: AP

    Gay rights reversals

    Washington Republican state Rep. Maureen Walsh

    Walsh reconsidered her position on gay marriage after her adult daughter came out, explaining to the New York Times, “In some selfish way I did think 'what an affront to my beautiful daughter, who deserves something everybody else has in this country.' It’s selfishness, but it’s motivated by love. And I’d rather err on the side of love, wouldn’t you?”

    Credit: YouTube

    Gay rights reversals

    Terre Marshall, political activist and Republican delegate from Hawaii

    After receiving a “sobbing telephone call” from a friend who revealed that she was gay and that her long-term relationship had just ended, the delegate from Hawaii had an epiphany about the equal value of same-sex commitment. “How could I have missed something so important to my closest friend?” Marshall told the New York Times.

    Credit: Twitter via @mauigopgirl

    Gay rights reversals

    Minnesota Republican state Rep. Branden Petersen

    In 2011, Peterson was one of 69 Republican legislators to vote in favor of a constitutional ballot amendment banning same-sex marriage, but cited his gay father’s 20-year relationship as inspiration for his political reversal. “At this point, I am concerned about doing the right thing,” Petersen told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

    Credit: Minnesota State Senate website

    Gay rights reversals

    Cher

    Cher holds a less political spot on this list. Although seen as a gay icon, she reacted poorly to son Chaz Bono's transition to living as a transgender man, telling ABC News she was "really frightened in the beginning" of her son's transition. Cher continues to confuse pronouns for Chaz, as she did in her interview with ABC, saying: "But she's really the same person. Her hair is darker. It made him happy." After being asked if she supports him now, Cher replied, "Yeah, I think so." Chaz has said his post-transition relationship with his mother is "moving in the right direction."

    Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Gay rights reversals

    A. Wade Kach, Republican delegate from Maryland

    In a piece in the New York Times, Kach said he was “absolutely appalled” when his local newspaper ran a picture of a gay couple and their child on its front page for a story about Father’s Day. “I didn’t think of them as a couple," he added. Kach attributes his change of heart to a legislative meeting where he found himself “eye to eye” with real gay couples. “I just saw the love and the devotion that they had to one another,” he told the Times.

    Credit: YouTube

    Gay rights reversals

    Former New York state Rep. Nan Hayworth

    Hayworth was one of several Tea Party candidates to sweep into office during the 2010 midterm elections, but differed from many of her ultra-conservative colleagues in her support for gay marriage. Hayworth, who has a 21-year-old gay son, was one of three Republicans to join the congressional LGBT Equality Caucus that year.

    Credit: Facebook

    Gay rights reversals

    Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

    Sanders opposed marriage equality and other city measures on gay rights -- until he learned his daughter was a lesbian. In a tearful speech in 2007, the then-mayor told reporters that he could not accept "anything less" than marriage and full equality for his daughter and, by extension, the gay and lesbian community.

    Credit: AP

    Gay rights reversals

    David Frum

    In an editorial for the Daily Beast, the former George W. Bush speechwriter explained his reversal on same-sex marriage as common among his fellow Republicans. “Like many signatories of the amicus brief, my thinking has been influenced by the fine example of the many committed, devoted same-sex couples I know,” he wrote. But the change wasn't all personal, adding: “At least as much, however, I have also been swayed by an intensifying awareness of the harm culture-war politics has done to my party.”

    Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Gay rights reversals

    Radio host Dede McGuire

    McGuire defended Bill Clinton’s 180 on marriage equality to a CNN panel, saying: “Why are we trippin’ when politicians flip-flop? I like that.” She went on to say that it was a gay couple who had helped her change her views on gay rights, and that she was proud of that change. She admonished her fellow CNN panelists for not sharing her sentiment, saying: “You guys act like [change] is a bad thing.”

    Credit: Twitter

    Gay rights reversals

    Dick Cheney

    The former vice president told Barbara Walters on “The View” that he supported the right of his daughter Mary Cheney to marry longtime partner Heather Poe, even though he wouldn’t raise the issue during his brief presidential bid or as President George W. Bush’s second in command. “I think freedom means freedom for everybody," he said at the time. "And you ought to have the right to make whatever choice you want to make with respect to your own personal situation."

    Credit: AP

    Screenshot

    Gay rights reversals

    Former Republican state Assemblyman Fred Thiele

    Thiele told New York magazine that, after years of opposing gay marriage in New York, he changed his mind because of the people around him, explaining, “I could not look into the eyes of friends and colleagues I have known for decades and tell them they were not entitled to the same pursuit of happiness as me because of their sexual orientation."

    Credit: YouTube

    Gay rights reversals

    State Assemblyman Bob Reilly

    The New York Democrat achieved a "greater awareness of the personal pain endured by gay men and women" through testimony from his colleagues in the state Assembly, as he told New York magazine. Adding, “When I grew up, I, quite frankly, didn't even know that gay people existed. I wasn't aware of that … So there's a growth and a change of mind-set that happens with individuals and with society as a whole."

    Credit: Facebook

    Screenshot

    Gay rights reversals

    Former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin

    Irvin told ESPN that it was his father, Walter, who helped him reconcile his Christian faith with his brother’s sexuality. He has since become an outspoken advocate for marriage equality in honor of his brother. "No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with,” he said.

    Credit: YouTube

    Gay rights reversals

    Arnold Schwarzenegger

    The former governor of California continues to say he "personally opposes" gay marriage, but has signed the court brief to reverse Proposition 8 in California and served as officiant for two gay weddings. His position evolved, he told "60 Minutes," because he wanted his gay colleagues to "have what him and (former) wife Maria had" -- which is (or was) marriage. A confusing reversal, but a reversal nonetheless.

    Credit: AP

    Gay rights reversals

    Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell

    The New York Times reported that, after a 1986 vote to uphold a criminal sodomy law, Justice Powell told his law clerk, “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a homosexual.” The clerk, who happened to be gay, responded, “Certainly you have, but you just don’t know that they are.” Justice Powell told the paper that he would come to regret his vote after the experience.

    Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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