In a moving tribute to his son Will, who is gay, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman announced his support of marriage equality. The celebrated conservative senator, once on the short list to become Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, writes in a column published today in The Columbus Dispatch:
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.
That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.
Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.
At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.
I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.
While we hope that it doesn’t require a personal connection to develop empathy, it is a great step forward for the first Senate Republican to publicly support gay marriage rights. As Katie McDonough of Salon.com points out, Portman still has a ways to go: he still opposes 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. But progress, at least, is being made.