“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.”
This is a section of an editorial by Republican Senator Rob Portman that was published in The Columbus Dispatch on Friday, announcing that he has changed his hardline stance against gay marriage in light of the fact that this son, Will, is gay. “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,” he told CNN in a follow-up interview.
The senator, who was a top contender to be Mitt Romney’s VP, explained that he had formed his previous views on gay marriage based on his religious belief “that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” but finding out his son was gay forced him to reconsider the issue “in a much deeper way.”
Portman is taking some flack for his flip-flopping, even from those who vehemently support gay marriage. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait questions Portman’s ability to think broadly and critically about important issues when his decision to support gay marriage was made for purely personal reasons:
Wanting your children to be happy is the most natural human impulse. But our responsibility as political beings — and the special responsibility of those who hold political power — is to consider issues from a societal perspective…
That Portman turns out to have a gay son is convenient for the gay-rights cause. But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about what’s good for all of us, rather than what’s good for himself and the people he knows?
It might have been a personal experience that sparked Portman’s “change of heart,” but that’s exactly where societal change starts: on a deeply personal level. Someone might be against gun control until their loved one is killed by a gun that was purchased without a background check. Someone might be a passionate supporter of the war on terror until their brother comes back from Afghanistan and shares a different perspective. The circumstances that lead us to make our decisions do not devalidate the decisions we make.
Not only was Portman open-minded enough to listen to and accept his son’s coming out, he had the courage to test the revelation against his own belief system and realize he needed to change his way of thinking. To take that experience and apply it to his political career–especially as a member of a party that is anti-gay marriage–is something to be celebrated. Hopefully Portman’s public decision to support his son and endorse marriage equality will serve as an example for parents and politicians alike. Let’s keep the momentum going until intolerance, on a personal and political level, is a thing of the past.