Portman's son tells story of coming out
March 25th, 2013
09:27 AM ET
10 years ago

Portman's son tells story of coming out

(CNN) – In an op-ed published Monday by the Yale Daily News, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's son, Will, wrote about a private family matter turning into a story that dominated national headlines earlier this month.

"I came to Yale as a freshman in the fall of 2010 with two big uncertainties hanging over my head: Whether my dad would get elected to the Senate in November, and whether I'd ever work up the courage to come out of the closet," stated the first line of Will Portman's column.

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His dad won the November election and a few months later, Portman wrote a letter to his parents about his secret, then shipped it overnight to Ohio.

That was the beginning of a two-year process that ultimately led to his father making a surprising announcement on March 15, when the Republican senator decided to buck his party's platform and endorse same-sex marriage.

"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," Portman told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash, citing his son's decision as the impetus for the decision.

Portman was the first sitting Republican in the U.S. Senate to come out in support of same-sex marriage.

His son, Will, has since become a high-profile anecdote in the same-sex marriage battle, currently a top issue as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week on two cases dealing with the issue.

Portman said his parents called as soon as they got the letter, and while they were surprised and inquisitive, they were "absolutely rock-solid supportive," he wrote. "That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was."

Over the coming months, he began to tell his friends and family that he was gay and subsequently learned that his best friend was also gay.

The next summer, his father's name was in the news first as he began campaigning for Mitt Romney and and more when he was considered a potential running mate for the GOP presidential contender.

"The rest of my family and I had given him the go-ahead to enter the vetting process," he wrote. "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."

In August 2012, Romney announced that Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had been chosen for the job. Will Portman wrote that he was "pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign."

Addressing criticism from the left that his father took two years to openly support same-sex marriage, Portman wrote that part of the reason for the delay was his own reluctance to make his personal life public.

But Portman added he's proud of his dad's decision "because he's shown that he's willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand." The Yale junior also cautioned against the often-negative political discourse over the issue.

"We're all the products of our backgrounds and environments, and the issue of marriage for same-sex couples is a complicated nexus of love, identity, politics, ideology and religious beliefs," he said. "We should think twice before using terms like 'bigoted' to describe the position of those opposed to same-sex marriage or 'immoral' to describe the position of those in favor, and always strive to cultivate humility in ourselves as we listen to others' perspectives and share our own."

Filed under: Rob Portman • Same-sex marriage
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Perhaps Marcus Bachmann can change Will back straight. I'm no republican by any means, but I respect Sen. Portman for being honest and standing up to the ideology of his party.

    March 25, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  2. The Clear Thinking Independent

    A courageous adult`s principles don`t change because his/her own self interests did. Senator Portman does not deserve to be lauded, neither did Cheney or any other Republican. Until official Republican policy has UNIFORMLY changed to be pro-gay, pro-gay marriage, until the GOP stops the "dog whistlek pandering to those in their Christian, evangelical, SOUTHERN, RURAL, homopobic base that want to exclude gays from the rights other citizens enjoy, then women, asians, latinos, blacks and thinking white men should shun the GOP.

    March 25, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  3. ultralance12

    I liked one reporters comment on this subject. "This would not be news if opponents of gay rights though of other peoples children".

    March 25, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  4. Al-NY,NY

    exactly Clear...The GOP can talk all they want but it comes down to actions. When a piece of legislation comes up and it's time to vote on it, we'll see where the lemmings vote when the tightie rightie bible thumpers are watching

    March 25, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  5. rs

    The danger for the GOP is clear: They vote for Gay Rights, they risk losing the Social "Conservative", Fundamentalist vote so carefully nurtured years back under Reagan (when he appeared at the Southern Baptist Convention).
    This could effectively split their party of knock out one of its legs.
    I'll wager they continue down their obstructionist, anti-Civil Rights path.

    March 25, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  6. Thomas

    One of the reasons Mitt Romney passed on Sen. Portman for VP.

    March 25, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. rs

    I find it so interesting that many frame their response to Portman's change of heart as political expediency which should have been trumped by "real belief".

    Is it that difficult for Republicans to change their minds, even when presented with evidence that their position is wrong? Not in the Romney way where he could be for, and aginst, and for something again in a 48 hour news cycle, but really have a change of heart, an epiphany if you will?

    If not, maybe this explains tax cuts at all costs for the rich (one day the rich will let it "trickle down"), or "gun control doesn't work" when in fact it does in every other civilized nation, or there is no global warming despite overwheling evidence to the contrary.

    If "true belief", the unwavering holding of opinion is what it takes to be a member of the GOP- they are doomed. The generational shifts in ideas and ideals will religate them to extinction.

    March 25, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  8. compassmd

    I have no issue with Senator Portman changing his position based on interactions and realizations he has had with his family. I have issues with people changing positions simply to garner votes. This change in position does not appear to be anything of the sort, but appears to be a change of heart at the family level.

    March 25, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  9. Mark

    I'm glad to see Portman be so honest about his personal convictions instead of going with party lines. I always am happy to see a politician vote for what he or she believes is right instead of what the party endorses.

    March 25, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  10. lottie

    gay rights are human rights. churches can do what ever they want. This country was founded on a belief in God and freedom to worship as we choose. Everyone should have the right to live love and worship how they want. The republicans are being held up by church groups saying theirs is the only way. What is free about that.???? Not every one is a Christian should we denie them their rights also?

    March 25, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  11. Rudy NYC

    I give Sen. Portman credit for coming to his senses and putting his personal prioritites ahead of those of the Republican Party. Too bad more conservatives cannot realize the same thing, that most all Republican policies hurt 98% of families..

    March 25, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Pete

    It's really funny if a democrate had done this bible toting republicans would've burned him at the stake ..Remember the outcry from republicans after Barney Frank said he was gay and the hate mail,death threats he recieved for months mostly from these same hateful,ignorent republicans again..Remember its known that Portman was against same sex marriages,unions during his run as VP just last election cycle but now he's going public just to garner more vote for his future quests..Just more political hypocracy from the bible toting ,racist white right and you know you can't run away from that pathedic history can yah republicans!!

    March 25, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  13. Sametestsameresults

    The facts are the evangelical crowd say families of Gay children brought them up immorally and the liberals do call them bigots. It may be sorry state I agree but what I see is everytime one of these right wing supporters of saving marriage in the traditional sense. Have an actual personal run in with a family member coming out they change their minds. How hard is it for the rest of the evangelicals and GOP leaders to actually put themselves in another human beings shoes with out judging them immoral? Because frankly the liberal dont call someone a Biggot UNTIL they have made this judgment about another human being. Like racisim, your not a racist until you say or do something that actually impedes a citizens socio economic progress based on skin color. After the action or words have been spoken don't they deserve the label biggot? I know it's not nice for certain and it is not taking the high road in the conversation but it would seem to me, if you see smoke you know theres fire why not call it what it is?

    March 25, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. wyl5326

    Why should the advocates for same sex make it imperative to insists on using the term Marriage be applied to their preference when they could just coin another term instead of confusing more people. Why do we have the terms men and women and public restrooms labelled clearly Male and Female if we really want equality ? Is it not more clear to continue Historical tradition of using the term marriage as applying to opposite sex only and just coin other terms for same sex male union and another term for same sex female union ? This is more practical as we even use different terms to identify male and female deer ! Are we not wasting so much energy and time on this very little issue that will probably never impact direction of human history !

    March 25, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  15. S.B. Stein

    It is never an easy decision to announce that you are something different than the rest of society. Any minority will have some level of descrimination from the minor like poor scissors that left handed kids get in elemetary school (damn things really didn't work) to major like Blacks and homosexuals being beaten to death because of what they are.

    March 25, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  16. Pete

    Maybe someone should have Portmans son sent to Michelle Bachmanns old man,maybe he can scare him straight using our state ,federal moneys to run his clinics in reversing gay to straight..Bachmanns old man could use some of his own medicine himself,he looked quite femine in his actions doesn't he!!

    March 25, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  17. Rudy NYC


    Why should the advocates for same sex make it imperative to insists on using the term Marriage be applied to their preference when they could just coin another term instead of confusing more people.
    Because the concept of "separate but equal" was deemed unconstitutional by the SCOTUS in the landmark case, "Brown vx. Bd. of Ed.", which desegregated the nation's schools, generations ago.

    March 25, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  18. Tom

    Its good the guy has his family support!!! So many of us in this situation were abandoned by our family and friends at a time when it is most needed! My compliments to the senator although if his son had not come out, he would not have supported same sex marriage. is this what has to happen for the rest of Republicans to get their heads out of the sand?

    March 25, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. fiftyfive55

    This is about the worst,saddest,most heart breaking thing a son can tell a father and is the very last thing any father wants to hear from a son.

    March 25, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  20. tony

    Dick Cheney,Rob Portman are all hypocrits they were against other peoples kids being gay until their children came out. Give me a break.

    March 25, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  21. CA Liberal

    This is one Republican Senator I can respect. I don't know about the rest of his platform, but for his honesty on this he has my deep respect. I think he is absolutely right on throwing around names like bigoted and immoral.

    March 25, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  22. Wake UP

    Sorry don't care. Really not important....

    If your gay okay no problem.... no need to put a banner up,,,, wear a gay pride shirt..... get CNN coverage......

    I like the don't ask and don't tell approach in life.

    I am straight and I don't get on talk shows, wear crazy t-shirts or make out in public and try to get a rise out of other people.

    I like the simple okay nice to know.....

    March 25, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  23. General Tso

    Enough already. There are other things than the gay agenda going on in the world. CNN, your campaigning is starting to negatively impact the effort to bring about equality. How about Syria, North Korea, Iran, Washington gridlock, etc. ...yopu know, things that affect ALL Americans.

    March 25, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. 2012liberal

    Our freedom lie more with liberty that anything else written. Our liberty 2 live our own agency. Not someone elses beliefs. You can hv yrs and i can hv mine. Just dont impose laws that harbor that. But if yr liberty inflicts harm upon me, ie bullet thru my body. Then inforcements need 2 b put n place.

    March 25, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |