It’s backing for gay marriage from an unlikely place: Ohio.
Sen. Rob Portman announced his support of gay marriage, revealing one of his sons is gay.
In an op-ed piece for the Columbus Dispatch, Portman wrote: “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.”
Portman, a junior U.S. senator, supported the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 when he was a congressman.
Regarded by many as a key player in his party, he was on the short list of potential running-mates for Mitt Romney last fall.
“I think he’s taking somewhat of a risk in terms of his status in the Republican Party,” said Robert C. Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University for more than two decades. “The Republican Party is still overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage. Half of Republicans say they’re strongly opposed to it, so I think he’s somewhat courageous.”
Fred Schein, president of the Log Cabin Republicans in San Francisco, said the tide is turning in his party, especially with moves like Senator Portman’s decision to go public with his son’s story. “He is such a widely respected person that he cannot be dismissed out of hand - in or out of the party.”
The announcement has drawn a significant amount of criticism from some fellow conservatives. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, released a statement Friday.
He commended Portman for his unconditional love of his son, followed by disapproval: “Our unconditional love for our children should not override the historical and social science evidence which makes abundantly clear what is best for all children and for society - being raised by a married mother and father. “
Thomas Peters, a spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, told Politico that any presidential hopes Portman may have had are now shot. “We can say that every time a Republican has come out for gay marriage, he ignites the grassroots.”
The situation has also drawn comparisons to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who also publicly switched his stance on gay marriage.
He had been encouraged by his daughter, Mary, who’s a lesbian. “It doesn’t always happen. Newt Gingrich has a gay relative in the family. He has not changed his position,” Smith said. “Alan Keyes, had a daughter who was gay. Keys, a Republican candidate, he viciously turned against her, disowned her.”
NBC Bay Area spoke with Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat who was the first openly gay man to serve in the California state senate. “It really confirms something that I think we all know – when we have someone gay, lesbian in our lives, our view on these issues of civil rights for our community change,” Leno said. “And that a parent’s love outweighs political dogma.”
He is convinced increasing public support of same-sex marriage, coupled with defining moments like Senator Portman’s public change of heart, will force the Republican Party to change its official stance on gay marriage – perhaps as early as the 2016 presidential election. “They will take that line about marriage between a man and a woman – out of their platform. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Schein is hopeful. He said he experienced major change when he and his fellow Log Cabin Republicans attended the California Republican Party’s 2013 Convention in Sacramento two weeks ago.
He said he felt that shift speaking with some of his party’s more conservative members, many of them rural areas like Placer and Humboldt Counties.
“They had likely never thought about, much less [spoke with] an out gay Republican, and they were very, very interested, and that to me, personally, was the real signal.”
There’s a bigger picture involved. Smith said there may be implications on the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of whether to uphold the overturn of Proposition 8 and the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.
He mentioned the prominent Republicans who filed briefs in support of gay marriage, including Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Smith added those are just a couple factors in addition to what the voting public has voiced. “[The Justices] read opinion polls as well, so I think it’s likely the court – Justice Kennedy – will swing toward acceptance of same-sex marriage.” As a congressman, Portman had supported DOMA back in 1996.
NBC Bay Area tried to reach him for comment, but a spokesperson said he was unavailable, away on an annual kayaking and mountain biking trip with his two sons this weekend.