Anti-Gay Republican Senator Comes Out as LGBT Ally

Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has a long track record of voting against marriage equality for gays and lesbians. He supported a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

Once a potential Romney running mate, Portman has now come out as a supporter of marriage equality and the repeal of certain parts of DOMA that deny federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The catalyst for this sea change? His 21-year-old son, Will, who came out to his parents two years ago. Since that revelation, Portman told CNN, he has been rethinking his opposition to marriage equality. “I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay,” said Portman.

Portman said he spoke with other politicians who have gay children, including Dick Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian. He also consulted the Bible.

“The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue,” Portman said, adding that he feels that “in a way, this strengthens the institution of marriage.”

While Portman is to be lauded for his change of heart, I find it appalling that it took his own son’s homosexuality to change his mind. He’s spent almost his entire political career making the lives of other parents’ children harder with his votes to deny equality to gay and lesbian couples.

But, as we’ve always preached in the LGBT community, the best way to bring about change is to get to know an actual living, breathing, LGBT person. Congratulations, then, to Portman for coming around to the right side of history.

He’s going to have a rocky time in his own party, as Sen. Marco Rubio affirmed his opposition to marriage equality at CPAC, saying, “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.” In exactly the same way that all those Southern diner owners not wanting black people to eat at their counters didn’t make them bigots, either.

Portman is also catching flak from portions of the religious right, with the American Family Association’s Bryan Fisher tweeting that, “A father can still love a son who robs a bank without changing his mind on the morality of bank robbing.”

Which really isn’t such a bad analogy. Because when you get right down to it, acceptance of homosexuality by church and society really does rob the banks of those whose livelihood depends on keeping LGBT people second class citizens.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)