Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and a top contender for the party's vice-presidential candidacy last year, has come out in support of gay marriage—after his son, Will, came out as gay. "As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples," Portman writes in an editorial published today in the Columbus Dispatch. "Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way." In 2011 Will, then in his first year at Yale, told his parents that he is gay. That knowledge, Portman writes, "prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective."
Portman is close to his son, and in an interview with CNN, Portman says he was surprised, but his reaction was one of "love [and] support." (Portman says the Romney team was aware of his son's sexuality when they considered him for the presidential ticket.) Shortly after his son came out, Portman was subject to a protest at the University of Michigan Law School, where he gave a commencement address, over his stance on LGBT issues. He reached out to former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is gay ("I followed his advice. You know, I followed my heart") and "worked through his decision" with Will.
Eventually, Portman decided that the bible's "overarching themes of love and compassion" and gay couples' status as a "a potential source of renewed strength" for the conservative instution of marriage overrode his faith-based objections. He'd had a "change of heart": "I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage."
But the change of heart doesn't mean he will propose a bill in the senate, or advocate the Supreme Court. He told CNN his focus is on economic issues; in the Dispatch he writes that marriage equality "should come about through the democratic process in the states." Rather, the senator joins a long line of Republicans whose understanding of equal rights and dignity under the law is limited more or less by the boundaries of their immediate families and social circles. While this is good news for the long-term prospects of gay rights it seems unlikely that Republicans will be willing to work productively on other issues until their progeny start coming out as poor, unemployed, uninsured, or undocumented.