Republican Senator Rob Portman Reminds Us Why Stories Matter

On Thursday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first sitting Republican senator to publicly support same-sex marriage, a decision that activist groups worldwide recognize as a significant step for LGBT progress. In a bold move, Portman announced his change of heart in the middle of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — which excluded gay conservative groups this year.

Portman explained that his 21-year-old son came out to him and his wife. “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,” he said. “If anything, I’m even more proud of the way he has handled the whole situation. He’s an amazing young man.”

While dozens of prominent Republican figures have voiced support for marriage equality, Portman took a courageous step as the first sitting Republican senator to do so. A co-sponsor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Portman reversed his position thanks to his son’s bold decision to share his story with his prominent Republican parents. Former Vice President Dick Cheney—another Republican in favor of same-sex marriage—similarly cited his daughter’s story about her sexual orientation when explaining the reversal of his position.

Personal stories have an unparalleled power to change opinions. I can’t help but draw parallels to when I came out to my Republican father at 21. While incredibly nerve-wrecking, sharing my experience with my father required him to reflect on his beliefs. His support ignited a powerful transformation of our relationship. While he still identifies as a Republican, my father struggles to vote for a party that doesn’t believe his son deserves the same opportunities that he and my mother have had.

Framing our stories and amplifying the message of LGBT equality will continue to be key in mobilizing supporters across party lines and accomplishing wider federal actions towards equality. At Fenton, we aim to accelerate progress on a variety of social issues. The Portman situation is yet another reminder that communicating a story effectively is paramount to progress.