Rarely to we get to see two members of one family – one a prominent senator – penning nearly-simultaneous columns on one of the most discussed issues of the day. But that’s what we have in Sen. Robert Portman’s column published in the Columbus Dispatch and other Ohio newspapers March 15, announcing that he changed his decades-long opposition to gay marriage since finding out that his son Will is gay. On March 25, his son, Will Portman, wrote a Yale Review column describing the process of coming out as a gay man to his parents, family and friends.
Of the two, I much prefer Will Portman’s column. It runs a little long, but it is charming – humble, compassionate, and at one point, laugh-out-loud funny. Yet it is easier for Will to be the more relaxed of the two. His writing reflects that.
His dad is in a more precarious position because of his past record. Sen. Portman’s column said that his conversion experience began when his son Will came out to him and his wife two years ago, and that he had concluded that allowing couples to marry is the compassionate stance. Sen. Portman didn’t say whether or not he regrets his past, forceful, opposition to rights for gays. In the mid-1990s as a member of the House of Representatives, he co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal ban on same-sex marriage. In 1999, in a particularly cruel move, Sen. Portman opposed allowing gay parents to adopt children.
It isn't good to tackle too many points in one column, but Sen. Portman's piece could have used a line reflecting on his past contradictions in more depth. He didn’t say he regretted his previous opposition, for example.
But Portman did unambiguously stand up in support of gay marriage, making him the only sitting GOP senator to do so. And for now, maybe that’s enough.