Misleading headline much? Not at all. Senator Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) reaction to his son’s coming out WAS shocking. I mean…who knew that a Republican could show so much humanity?
When Portman (R-Ohio) – out of love for his gay son, Will Portland – “came out” in support of same-sex marriage earlier this month, it shook up the GOP and its stance on marriage equality. Because same-sex marriage and LGBT equality are front and center this week, Portman’s evolution can be compared to that of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s embracing of President Obama the week before the 2012 presidential election. I”m sure Republican leaders were thinking of Portman” “WTH??? Could his timing be ANY worse?”
Well in our opinion, the timing couldn’t be better, and it’s likely that Senator Portman knows that. He’s not a fool, and he knows that his voice, and the public acceptance and love that he showed to his gay son, could be a strong influence in public opinion and within the GOP. Although he has faced crippling criticism and bigotry over his decision to take his support public, it will eventually help the cause of marriage equality; the more high-profile Republicans “come out” to support the rights of gay people, the easier it will be for others to do so.
See Portman’s video here:
On Monday, Will Portman wrote an op-ed for the Yale Daily News. He described his year as a 2010 freshman at Yale, and shared that his two top concerns that year were 1) whether or not he would ever find the courage to come out, and 2) his dad becoming elected to Senate. He explained that although his dad ended up enjoying a successful Senate run, he himself was unhappy.
“I’d make stuff up when my suitemates and I would talk about our personal lives. I remember going to a dance in the Trumbull dining hall with a girl in my class and feeling guilty about pretending to be somebody I wasn’t.”
He made the decision to move forward with his coming out after researching the topic at the university library. He wasn’t without worry. How would his friends feel about it? Would he be criticized by his gay classmates at Yale for not coming out earlier? And though he didn’t say so in his op-ed, it’s likely that he had concerns about how his parents would feel as well.
Will tried to come out in person to his parents during the holidays of his freshman year, but could not get up the courage to do so. So he wrote a letter. As soon as the Portmans received the letter, they called him.
“They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.”
Through the entire coming out process, Senator Portman made it clear that he was Will’s dad first and a senator second. As the father and son talked more about Will’s sexuality, the discussion eventually focused on equality issues. Senator Portman was completely unwilling to compromise his support of his son for political gain. When he was being considered as a vice presidential candidate for the Romney campaign, he made it clear that he would not be dishonest about his son.
“My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we’d be open about it on the campaign trail.”
It seems that through every step of this two year process, the Portman family was united and made key decisions as a family.
“We had decided that my dad would talk about having a gay son if he were to change his position on marriage equality. It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart. Besides, the fact that I was gay would probably become public anyway. I had encouraged my dad all along to change his position, but it gave me pause to think that the one thing that nobody had known about me for so many years would suddenly become the one thing that everybody knew about me.”
Though Will Portman would prefer to not have his sexuality be a national news headline, he considers it a privilege that he was able to to come out publicly. He’s proud of his father, not just because of his support of marriage equality but about how he approached it.
“I’m proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I’m pretty psyched about that), but because he’s been thoughtful and open-minded in how he’s approached the issue, and because he’s shown that he’s willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand. He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today.”
Will’s experience with a loving conservative father has shaped who he is as a man, and as a gay man. Without his father’s support, it’s likely that Will wouldn’t be as stable and secure as he currently is. Because his father is so supportive, Will is urging people, including liberals, to practice tolerance with people who are against marriage equality.
“We should think twice before using terms like “bigoted” to describe the position of those opposed to same-sex marriage or “immoral” to describe the position of those in favor, and always strive to cultivate humility in ourselves as we listen to others’ perspectives and share our own.”
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, visit my blog, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.