Terrace Park isn’t the likeliest of neighborhoods for Cincinnatians to mingle with diverse groups of people, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if Sen. Rob Portman maybe didn’t have much experience interacting with gay people before his son came out two years ago.
But boy what a difference a gay son and two years of reflection make.
Portman had to prepare his own coming out speech yesterday, this one to his GOP senatorial brothers and sisters, none of which support same-sex marriage. Imagine how nervous he must have been, sleeves rolled up, flag pin hanging slightly askew as he spoke to reporters in response to the op-ed he published supporting gay marriage. If he stuttered at all it’s not because he wasn’t earnest — he just really loves his son.
Two years ago Portman’s son, Will, was a freshman at Yale when he came home and explained that being gay “was not a choice,” which seems to have resonated with Dad. Portman consulted with religious leaders and other men who have been anti-gay even though they have close family members who are homosexual, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who probably said something like, “Dude, it doesn’t matter anymore now that Obama is talking about queers in the State of the Union and shit. Roll Tide.”
Portman explained his new found interest in respecting millions of fellow humans this way: "[I want] 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 says he would like to see congress overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, a redundant and discriminatory piece of legislation banning federal recognition of gay marriage, which he helped pass in 1996. But he still doesn’t think the federal government should tread on the states and make them recognize it if they don’t want to.
Meanwhile, in Washington Harbor, Md., Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday discussed their bigotry during a panel called "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition." The featured speaker was Jimmy LaSalvia, whose Republican gay-rights organization GOProud wasn’t allowed to sponsor the conference.
While gay-rights leaders celebrate the support and the possibility of other powerful Republicans realizing that they know and care about someone who is different, the announcement brings attention to other conservatives trying to remove yuckiness from the party’s official stance on homosexuality and gay marriage.
NBC News today recapped a few other Republicans who have recently come out in support of gay-marriage:
Jon Huntsman, a GOP presidential candidate in 2012 who had endorsed civil unions, said this year that he supports marriage rights. Furthermore, he framed it in conservative terms.
"There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love," he wrote.
And Theodore Olson, a former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, has been one of the lead attorneys challenging California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage in that state. (Portman fretted in his op-ed that a court decision might hamper the political movement toward legalizing gay and lesbian weddings.)
And Fred Malek, a Republican power-broker, told NBC News this week that conservatives shouldn't feel threatened by gays and lesbian couples who wish to marry.
"I've always felt that marriage is between a man and a woman, but other people don't agree with that," he said. "People should be able to live their lives the way they choose. And it's not going to threaten our overall value system or our country to allow gays to marry, if that's what they want to do."
Nearly a quarter of Republicans reportedly support same-sex rights, leaving the door open for plenty more GOP leaders to search for gay family members on Facebook who might offer insight inspirational enough to frame their own stories of new found compassion and respect for other people.