Rob Portman, the junior U.S. Senator from Ohio, has become the first senate Republican to openly support gay marriage. Portman was previously an opponent of gay marriage and voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents gay marriages from being recognized at a federal level.
In an editorial in The Columbus Dispatch, Portman outlined his changing feelings on the issue of gay marriage. He reveals that one of his sons came out as gay two years ago. From the editorial:
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.
Portman went on to say that his opposition to gay rights in the past was, unsurprisingly, based on his religious beliefs. He stated that he struggled to reconcile his Christianity with his love for his son and ultimately came to his conclusion on the basis of "the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God."
Portman said that he believes individual states should make decisions regarding gay marriage, and that he believes no law should force religious institutions to recognize gay marriages. He also stated that he believes his conservative views support his new position:
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.
With Republicans such as Portman and former Vice President Dick Cheney supporting gay marriage, it is beginning to seem as if the gay marriage debate, at least politically, is over in the U.S. The tipping point may have been one year ago, when President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.
The Supreme Court will soon hear cases involving the constitutionality of both DOMA and California's Proposition 8 law. If the court decides to strike down the laws, the issue of gay marriage could cease to be a political issue sooner rather than later.