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Rob Portman’s son on coming out

Earlier this month, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced that he came to support gay marriage after learning that his son Will was gay. On Monday, Will Portman published an op-ed in the Yale Daily News about coming out, in which he explains how his personal life intersected with national politics. 

Now a junior, Portman came out to his parents in a letter his freshman year of college. "They were surprised... but absolutely rock-solid supportive," he writes. By the end of the semester, he "started talking to my dad more about being gay," including "the policy issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples."

A year, later, Portman's father was under consideration to be Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012. "My dad told the Romney campaign that I was gay, that he and my mom were supportive and proud of their son, and that we’d be open about it on the campaign trail," Portman writes. When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) got the nod instead, the younger Portman "was pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign."

Portman defends his father for not endorsing gay marriage sooner, saying his own desire for privacy contributed:

Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples. Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.

We had decided that my dad would talk about having a gay son if he were to change his position on marriage equality. It would be the only honest way to explain his change of heart.

He adds that he's proud of his father not for changing his mind about gay marriage but for being "thoughtful and open-minded" and for taking a political risk by speaking publicly.  "He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today," Portman writes.

The national fight for gay marriage will take a new turn this week as the Supreme Court hears cases related to same-sex unions. In politics, as The Fix has written, that debate is effectively over, and supporters of gay marriage have won. But most Republicans remain opposed, and so the party is unlikely to join Portman en masse any time soon.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.



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Aaron Blake · March 25, 2013

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