Sen. Rob Portman
Rob Portman Becomes First Senate Republican to Support Marriage Equality

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com March 15 2013 12:39 AM ET

The U.S. Senate now has its first Republican to support marriage equality, with Ohio's Rob Portman today announcing "a change of heart" spurred on because his son is gay.

Portman is a high-profile member of his party and was often mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney. He's President George W. Bush's former budget director. And he credits former vice president Dick Cheney, an advocate for marriage equality whose daughter is a lesbian, with advising him to "do the right thing, follow your heart," according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The newspaper was included among a group of reporters who Portman spoke with about his new position, which is a reversal from having voted to enact the Defense of Marriage Act back in 1996. Portman also once voted in favor of amending the U.S Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.  

When his 21-year-old son, Will, came out to Portman and his wife two years ago, "It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have," he told the Plain Dealer.

Portman also spoke with CNN and recounted the moment his son came out.

"My son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice, and that it's just part of who he is, and that's who he'd been that way for as long as he could remember," said Portman, who said he offered "love" and "support."

Although only now going public about having a gay son, Portman told CNN that he informed the Romney campaign as part of the vice presidential vetting process — and he says it wasn't an issue.

While still being considered as a Romney pick, Portman told ThinkProgress in June that he opposed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to fire employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Portman said at the time that the bill  “would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable, to be able to hire, and to keep this economy moving.” None of the media outlets at the interview reported a change in the senator's opposition to ENDA.

He is now the only Republican currently in the Senate to support marriage equality, but he's not the only one in Congress. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, in 2011 became the first GOP congresswoman to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Portman told reporters he decided to make his announcement now because the Supreme Court will soon hear cases related to marriage equality and he expected to be asked about his position.

Ros-Lehtinen and fellow GOP congressman Richard Hanna were among a group of 74 well-known Republicans who signed a court brief in February arguing that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. Portman said he had no plans to join any of the legal briefs. Many have been filed, and that one included famous names such as Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former governors Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, Jon Huntsman of Utah, and William Weld of Massachusetts.

Watch the CNN interview below.