Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman recently announced his support for same-sex marriage, adding his son Will is gay and learning that fact forced him to re-think his position. Will Portman, now a junior in Trumbull College at Yale University, writes a long op-ed describing his own coming out process that is heartbreakingly warm and inspiring, educational, and may expose as premature some of the assumptions many made when his father said:
“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.”
Will Portman admits he was “pretty relieved to have avoided the spotlight of a presidential campaign,” after the Romney campaign picked Paul Ryan over Rob Portman (– a ridiculous move that cost them dearly.) And Will notes, of his father’s two-year delay in supporting marriage publicly:
“Part of the reason for that is that it took time for him to think through the issue more deeply after the impetus of my coming out. But another factor was my reluctance to make my personal life public.”
The elder Portman took a great deal of heat from both sides, including some on these pages. The right chastised him for supporting sodomy and immorality, the left chastised him for waiting two years after learning his son was gay to announce his support, for continuing to vote for anti-gay measures, and for (here and elsewhere) only being capable of taking progressive and socially-conscious positions when they affect him directly — something many on the left feel about those on the right. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow quipped on Bill Maher’s show, “now I want to try to arrange, for every Republican who signed up for the Paul Ryan budget, to wake up with a poor son.”
Will Portman writes, “I was beginning to realize that coming out, however difficult it seemed, was a lot better than the alternative: staying in, all alone.”
And he explains the process:
I decided to write a letter to my parents. I’d tried to come out to them in person over winter break but hadn’t been able to. So I found a cubicle in Bass Library one day and went to work. Once I had something I was satisfied with, I overnighted it to my parents and awaited a response.
They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.
I still had a ways to go, though. By the end of freshman year, I’d only come out to my parents, my brother and sister, and two friends. One day that summer, my best friend from high school and I were hanging out.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” I finally said. “I’m gay.” He paused for a second, looked down at the ground, looked back up, and said, “Me too.”
I was surprised. At first it was funny, and we made jokes about our lack of gaydar. Then it was kind of sad to realize that we’d been going through the same thing all along but hadn’t felt safe enough to confide in each other. But then, it was pretty cool — we probably understood each other’s situation at that moment better than anybody else could.
It has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines. I could certainly do without having my sexual orientation announced on the evening news, or commentators weighing in to tell me things like living my life honestly and fully is “harmful to [me] and society as a whole.” But in many ways it’s been a privilege to come out so publicly.
This may have to go up on the fridge twitter.com/wdportman/stat…
— Will Portman (@wdportman) March 20, 2013
Concluding that “things really do get better,” Will writes:
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. 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.
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