Sen. Rob Portman (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Sen. Rob Portman (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earned my enduring respect when he came out in support of same-sex marriage last year because his son came out to him two years earlier. Folks wondered if taking such a public position would snuff out his presidential ambitions. The Post’s Robert Costa reports today that it hasn’t. In fact, it’s been a plus. And that’s something we should all cheer.

Portman told Costa that his support of marriage equality “has opened the door for a broader conversation on economic and fiscal issues.” He went on to say that, “You can’t become a national party unless you do a better job reaching those between 18 and 30. They are the voters of tomorrow, and we want them to listen to us on jobs and Obamacare.” And then Portman said this about those for whom his stance on gay marriage is an issue. “Some people say: ‘I don’t care about that. I care only about the marriage issue.’ And I get that,” he told Costa. “But we’ve got to show respect for both sides. Respect is important — respect for people’s religious views, respect for personal experience. It should be a sincere and healthy dialogue.”

Interesting that Portman acknowledges that his party needs to “become a national party” again. I admire his willingness to say out loud what the Republican National Committee once bluntly acknowledged before pretending it never happened. I also admire Portman’s demand for respect. I can respect a person’s religious views on the issue of same-sex marriage. What I can’t abide is the inability of that person to respect that gay couples seeking the right to civil marriage are looking for equal protection under the law for themselves and their families.

Portman addressed this very struggle in a terrific op-ed announcing his change of heart last year.

At the time [of his son’s coming out], my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

Well-intentioned people can disagree on the question of marriage for gay couples, and maintaining religious freedom is as important as pursuing civil marriage rights. For example, I believe that no law should force religious institutions to perform weddings or recognize marriages they don’t approve of.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.

One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.

Portman is 100 percent correct on this. And it might be the reason his presidential ambitions go nowhere. But if the Republican Party were smart and tired of losing presidential contests, its primary voters would give him a serious look-see. It’s not like Portman isn’t conservative. He just doesn’t let it get in the way of compromise or changes of heart.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.