In 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, Republican Sen. Rob Portman voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
He also voted in 1999 against allowing gay couples in Washington, D.C., to adopt children.
But last Thursday Portman, who was considered a potential running mate for White House candidate Mitt Romney, announced he renounced such oppositions.
Why the sudden change of heart? Because his 21-year-old son, Will, "came out of the closet."
"It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years," Portman told reporters in an interview at his office last week.
Portman said he had confided in the pastor of his Methodist church in Cincinnati about the issue. He also spoke to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who opposes gay marriage, and to former Vice President Dick Cheney (whose daughter is a lesbian), who supports it.
Cheney advised him to, "do the right thing, follow your heart."
"I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married," he wrote in an opinion piece for the Columbus Dispatch.
Of course he hasn't considered introducing such legislation himself since, according to him, economic policy issues are his specialty.
Portman said he believes that same-sex couples who marry legally in states where it's allowed should get the federal benefits that are granted to heterosexual married couples but aren't currently extended to gay married couples because of Defense of Marriage Act, such as the ability to file joint tax returns. But family law has traditionally been a state responsibility, Portman included, so the federal definition of marriage should not preempt state marriage laws.
Same-sex marriage has been passed in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Maryland and Washington. But it's banned, through law or constitutional amendment, in the rest of the 41 states.
So yeah. It's sort of cool that Portman "came out" in support of those homosexuals who live in the nine states that don't hate on gay people.
But I think it's also pretty superficial that he was unable to imagine the plight of other human beings without a family reference.
This just affirms my belief that a majority of the GOP is a party of ME. Now we can only hope that someone in Portman's family turns out to be a minority who goes on welfare and loses her health insurance.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com