When Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio on Friday became the latest conservative politician to announce his support for same-sex marriage, he disclosed that his son, Will, a junior at Yale University, had told him two years ago that he is gay; and that love and admiration for his son had moved the senator to reflect — and change.
When Mr. Portman was in the House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a 1996 law to prevent same-sex marriage.
"At the time, my position ... was rooted in my faith tradition," he wrote in Friday's Columbus Dispatch. "Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love ... and my belief that we are all children of God."
A lot of Americans, according to polls, are growing to accept same-sex marriage, whatever their politics or faith. The politicians of both major parties may simply be trying to keep pace. But many of them have said that personal experience, especially with their children, has caused them to see the issue in a new light.
When President Obama told ABC News last May that his position on same-sex marriage was "evolving," he cited his daughters.
"Malia and Sasha," he said, "they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. ... And frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was probably the first major political figure to explicitly support same-sex marriage, in 2009, saying, "I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish." His daughter, Mary Cheney, lived in a committed relationship for many years and is now married.
Perhaps a politician — or any of us — shouldn't have to feel that our child is directly affected by an issue to take a fresh look. But there is nothing like children to chip away at any hard ideological assumptions we hold, especially if we begin to think that our certitudes may prevent our children from being happy.
In a round of interviews with Ohio newspapers Friday, Sen. Portman spoke about how much he admired his son. "He's an amazing young man," he said. "If anything, I'm even more proud of the way he has handled the whole situation."
He sounded like a father who was glad and proud to have learned something from his son. And his son might learn something from his father, too, that can be useful for all of us as we grow older: about keeping an open mind and heart, and being open to change.