GOP Sen. Rob Portman endorses marriage equality

Portman is the first sitting GOP senator to support same-sex marriage, attributing the change to his gay son

Published March 15, 2013 12:51PM (EDT)

Sen. Rob Portman
Sen. Rob Portman

Republican Sen. Rob Portman has come out for marriage equality, making the Ohio lawmaker the first sitting member of the Senate GOP to do so.

Portman attributes the reversal to his son coming out to him, as he told CNN's Dana Bash:

"I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue a lot of people feel strongly about. It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. During my career in the House and also the last few years in the Senate I've taken a position against gay marriage rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition...

I had a very personal experience which is my son came to Jane, my wife and I, told us he was gay and that it was not a choice, that's just part of who he is and that he had been that way since he could remember."

Adding in a separate interview on Thursday, that his "personal experience" with his gay son "allowed me 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.”

Portman said his son, a junior at Yale University, told him that he was gay and "it was not a choice, it was who he is and that he had been that way since he could remember."

This is good news. People coming around to issues of equal protection and basic fairness is always good news.

But it's an uneven victory.

Portman may have reversed his position on gay marriage, but he has stayed the course on other important gay rights legislation. The senator continues to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

As he explained in an interview in June, the Ohio lawmaker believes such legislation "would make it difficult for employers to feel comfortable":

"What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written. So you don’t want it to be a boon to lawyers, you want it to actually help people. But no one should discriminate... A lot of them would create a lot of legal rights of action that would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable, to be able to hire, and to keep this economy moving. So you have to be careful how you do it."

Bringing these things up -- and pushing lawmakers on these positions -- isn't nitpicking. It's an essential part of ensuring that Portman's son -- and every other LGBT American -- can access the same rights and protections as everyone else.

By Katie McDonough

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

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