Portman supports marriage for gays

Republican senator announced stunning reversal in position after son informed family he is gay.

Reversal of position

April 2011: "Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman." - Jeff Sadosky, communications director for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

March 2013: Support for same-sex marriage is a "change in my position that I have had in Congress and also here in the Senate the last couple of years.'' - Sen. Rob Portman in interview with Ohio papers

Sen. Rob Portman has renounced his opposition to gay marriage, telling reporters from Ohio newspapers Thursday that he changed his position after his son Will told the Ohio Republican and his wife Jane that he is gay.

Portman's stunning announcement comes just a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, a measure Portman co-sponsored as a member of the U.S. House.

>>Read Portman's letter outlining his new support of gay marriage<<

But like former President Bill Clinton, who signed the law, Portman now wants the high court to invalidate the law’s declaration against gay marriage. Instead, Portman said he would prefer that each state be allowed to decide on a definition of marriage.

In an interview in his Senate office, Portman acknowledged his support of same-sex marriage is a “change in my position that I have had in Congress and also here in the Senate the last couple of years.’’ But he said that change “came about through a process’’ when Will, now a junior at Yale University, told his parents in February 2011 that he was gay.

“It allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective and that’s as a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have,’’ Portman said.

Portman's staff said he informed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney about Will last year when Portman was being interviewed as a potential vice-presidential nominee. Romney ultimately picked Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate.

Portman said he and his wife Jane “were both surprised’’ to learn their son was gay, but he said they were “very supportive of him,’’ adding that they wanted him to “know we were 100 percent supportive and we love him. He’s an amazing young man.’’

"If anything I'm even more proud of the way he has handled the whole situation,'' Portman said.

>>See Twitter reaction of Portman's reversal in our Storify<<

Portman had to deal with his position on the issue just two months later, when a group of students at the University of Michigan Law School protested his selection as a graduation speaker because of what they called his “openly hostile” position on gay rights. According to local media reports, more than 100 students walked out of the ceremony because they disagreed with his opposition to gay marriage.

While Portman has been a staunch conservative on social issues including abortion and gun issues, he has been more inclined to tout economic and budget issues publicly and during his 2010 campaign against Democrat Lee Fisher.

Portman's staff carefully choreographed the announcement. They invited reporters from four newspapers — the Daily News, Columbus Dispatch Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cincinnati Enquirer.

Portman said Will encouraged his father to make public the story. The Portmans have three children — Jed, 22, Will, 21, and Sally 18.

Portman's announcement could spark a major impact on the nationwide debate on gay marriage. Polls are showing that a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, a number that has sharply increased during the past decade. In particular, the issue is causing fissures among Republicans who as recently as 2004 were virtually unanimous in their opposition to gay marriage.

Portman said he spoke with the pastor of his church in Cincinnati and opponents of gay marriage about his change in position. In addition, he said last weekend he spoke with former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is gay.

“His advice was: ‘Do the right thing. Follow your heart,’ ’’ Portman said.

In Ohio, other Republicans have also wrangled with their own personal connection to gay issues. Jim Petro, who lost the 2006 GOP primary for governor to J. Kenneth Blackwell in part because Blackwell accused him of being soft on gay marriage issues, nonetheless ran ads touting his opposition to gay marriage during that campaign.

Petro, however, opposed a successful 2004 ballot issue to define marriage in the Ohio Constitution as being between a man and a woman. At the time, he said he supported legal benefits for same-sex couples.

Six years later, Petro’s daughter married another woman in Massachusetts.

Ohio Sen. Brown responds to Sen. Portman's switch on gay marriage in this press release.

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