Rep. Matt Salmon: Gay son hasn’t changed my views on gay marriage

In an interview aired over the weekend, Rep. Matt J. Salmon (R-Ariz.) told a local news station that his son's homosexuality has not led him to change his position on gay marriage.

"I don't support the gay marriage," the congressman said. But Salmon emphasized that he loved and respected his son and did not consider homosexuality a choice.

"My son is by far one of the most important people in my life. I love him more than I can say," an emotional Salmon told 3TV. "It doesn't mean that I don't have respect, it doesn't mean that I don't sympathize with some of the issues. It just means I haven't evolved to that stage."

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recently endorsed gay marriage, saying his son's homosexuality inspired him to change his position.

A staunch social conservative, Salmon voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and for a ban on gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. His wife, Nancy Salmon, led the Arizona chapter of the group United Families International during an unsuccessful 2006 fight to ban gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships in the state constitution. (A narrower marriage amendment was passed two years later).

"We respect each others' opinions and we just know that on certain issues we have to agree to disagree," the congressman's son, Matt R. Salmon, told The Post. "I love my father and realize that he can have the opinions that he has, and they might differ from mine, but that doesn't change the way I feel about him."

Discussions of gay issues are "not a huge part of our relationship," the younger Salmon said. "I definitely share my feelings, but I don't pressure him to change his opinion because I know that given our relationship there's no real need to do that. We each know where we stand."

Salmon also expressed disappointment in those who have reacted to the interview by leaving "hate speech" on his father's Facebook page. "If he's going to change his mind it's going to come from a place of love," Salmon said. "All they're doing is fighting intolerance with intolerance."

Matt R. Salmon is a former leader of the Arizona Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-gay rights GOP group. He left that post to concentrate on medical school and is hoping to reengage with politics next year, when he has more time. In a 2010 interview with the Phoenix New Times, the then-22-year-old revealed that he was dating Kent Flake, the second cousin of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). In the article both young men, who have since broken up, discussed coming out to their conservative Mormon families.

"The first time I had a conversation with [my father] about it, it did not go well. He was very upset and said some things right off that I know he doesn't really feel," Salmon revealed. "He's never called me any slurs or anything like that, but he made it clear he didn't like it."

The younger Salmon said his father came to support his activism even if he didn't agree with it, a point he emphasized in a 2011 "It Gets Better" video describing his experience with his family, with bullies and with gay "conversion" therapy:

"I didn't know if my family would ever come around. My parents were very politically opposed to gay and equal rights," he says in the video. The key, he said, was not to shut them out regardless of their politics: "Since I've come out, things have changed with my family, but it wasn't until I realized one key thing: if I wanted them to love me and fully accept me, I had to love and fully accept them too, despite their opinions which might not agree with mine."

Acceptance, Salmon has explained on his personal blog, is why he supported his father's 2012 congressional bid "even though he may try to limit my rights through his legislation."

Rep. Salmon previously served in Congress from 1995 to 2001 and retired, having pledged to serve only three terms. Flake was elected to Salmon's former seat and went on to break his own term limit pledge; he left the seat to run for Senate last fall and Salmon was elected to replace him. Flake said Sunday that it’s “inevitable” that there will someday be a GOP presidential candidate who supports same-sex marriage, and that he could back such a candidate, even as he opposes gay marriage.

RELATED: Prominent political figures who support gay marriage

This post has been updated.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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