Senator Rob Portman, a junior senator from Ohio, is pretty much your prototypical Republican. Older white guy who talks about government like it's an anathema while advocating laws that promote "family values". You know the type.
With the exception of immigration reform (on which he's actually relatively progressive,) his voting record has been pretty much boiler plate right-wing. He has supported the war, the death penalty, and the strong restriction of reproductive rights on a federal level. He believes that federal funding should only be given to schools that allow prayer in the classroom, and has voted to virtually eliminate restrictions on gun ownership. He has rallied against public healthcare and government-funded assistance programs. He has strongly supported Republican presidents and presidential hopefuls. He served on George H.W. Bush's cabinet, and toured in support of Mitt Romney for much of his campaign.
Like many Republican legislators, Portman has also voted consistently against gay rights: in fact, he's been one of equality's most virulent opponents. He has consistently supported banning homosexuals in the military and advocated for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In 2004, he voted for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and voted for it again in 2010. He has even voted to ban adoption by gay couples in Washington D.C.
His reputation for anti-LGBTQ voting was so pervasive that when he spoke at the commencement of the Michigan Law School (his alma mater), over 100 graduates walked out in protest.
But it looks like no matter how much you think you oppose gay marriage, you might reconsider if your kid comes out of the closet. In a press conference today, Portman announced that he has pulled a total 180 and reversed his position: he will now be supporting equal marriage rights for all. Why? His son, Will Portman, is now openly gay.
Now, before I get glib or quick to criticize, I have to say that first and foremost this is a good thing, in of itself. It takes courage and integrity to face the frothing anti-homo attitudes of the right, and he put himself on the line in support of his son.
That said, this decision change is important. It says something essential about the opposition to gay marriage and the mindset of its opponents in Congress and the House (as well as the general public.) Namely, that if their child is gay and they have a shred of decency, they will suddenly realize that what they are fighting for is oppressive and harmful. What's troubling about this fact is that it means that legislators are not thinking about real human beings when they're making their decisions. If they imagined every other LGBTQ person in the country as someone's child--and I mean truly imagined, not just gave the idea lip-service--then it might become evident that they deserve the same rights that straight and cis-gender children deserve.
It unfortunately seems to take having a gay child to drive that point home. So for my birthday this year, I want every Senator and Congressman to have a queer kid, to teach their empathy-dull asses how to be basically decent human beings and not vote for oppressive homophobia. Or, you know, to develop that sort of decency on their own...
...but we all know that's not going to happen. So queer kids for all!