It has been known for many years that if someone knows or loves an LGBT person they are more likely to favor equal rights. As time has progressed and being openly LGBT has become less stigmatized, more and more people are exiting the closet to find families and friends that support them.
Obviously, this extends to members of all walks of life, including the halls of Congress. When Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) chose to come out and support marriage equality it was surprising as he has not been a vocal ally, just like many in the Republican Party.
However, Senator Portman has the same reason as so many Americans do to change their minds on marriage equality and LGBT rights in general: a loved one.
Growing up in a political household isn’t easy; you can ask my two sons, Kyle and Corey. Everybody knew their Dad was the Mayor and in our small town of 9,000 people it wasn’t hard to find people that disagreed with my policies or politics.
The children of politicians aren’t normally thrust into the limelight unless they’re arrested or running for office themselves. So when Will Portman told his father he was gay he most likely didn’t anticipate a national story surrounding it.
Coming out is not easy and coming out to a father that has spoken against gay rights in the past must be even harder. Will Portman should be applauded for his courage and thanked by our community for pushing a sitting Republican Senator to our side in the fight for marriage equality.
However, what troubles me about Senator Portman and many other elected officials is that it takes that personal touch for them to understand an issue. I’m sure we can all agree that if Will had not come out to his father then Senator Portman would still firmly be in the anti-marriage equality camp. I do not believe that it should take
such momentous occasions in a politician’s personal life to find clarity on an issue as important as marriage equality, or universal healthcare, or a living wage.
Representing 11.5 million people is hard work and I thank Senator Portman for his service, but he is going to need a bigger family if he intends to legislate solely based on experiences under his roof.
As an out gay legislator with two adopted African-American sons perhaps I’ve learned to be more accustomed to fighting for others that need more from me and their government. As members of a minority we have been fighting for our rights and the rights of others for decades.
These rights have been taken for granted by the wealthy and healthy and I’m glad that so many in our communities are standing up and saying enough is enough.
Not every legislator will have a family member that touches them so deeply they have a change of heart on many issues. That is why we all must continue to speak out when we see injustice, call our legislators when we feel they are misrepresenting us and, most importantly, we must vote for those that will fight for all Americans because we are all just one big American family.
** The author is an assemblyman in New Jersey.