Will Portman says dad offered ‘rock-solid’ support on coming out

Updated
Senate Energy Committee member Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sits in on the committee's discussion on the nomination of Sally Jewell to be secretary of the...
Senate Energy Committee member Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sits in on the committee's discussion on the nomination of Sally Jewell to be secretary of the...
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Will Portman, son of Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, says he received “rock-solid” support from his parents upon coming out to them as a college freshman.

Portman was credited by his dad, conservative Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, for changing the senator’s position on gay marriage. Sen. Portman reversed his anti-gay marriage position earlier this month, citing his gay son.

The younger Portman, a junior at Yale’s Trumbull College, wrote in an op-ed in the Yale Daily News about the difficulty he had in coming out. The student recounted his decision to come out to his family and friends, explaining that he worried about the repercussions it would bring. He wrote:

I worried about how my friends back home would react when I told them I was gay. Would they stop hanging out with me? Would they tell me they were supportive, but then slowly distance themselves? And what about my friends at Yale, the “Gay Ivy”? Would they criticize me for not having come out earlier? Would they be able to understand my anxiety about all of this? I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with Yale or Cincinnati, or with gay or straight culture.


Portman came out to his parents via letter and they immediately offered support, he wrote. “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,” he wrote. “That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.”

Senator Portman also said he wrestled with his decision on gay marriage but ultimately decided he believed that his son deserved the same opportunities as everyone else. Will expressed how proud he is of his dad for changing his position, but admitted it “has been strange to have my personal life in the headlines.”

I’m proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I’m pretty psyched about that), but because he’s been thoughtful and open-minded in how he’s approached the issue, and because he’s shown that he’s willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand. He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today.

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.


The Supreme Court is set to begin hearing arguments concerning same-sex marriage this week.

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Will Portman says dad offered 'rock-solid' support on coming out

Updated