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Coming out: How Sen. Rob Portman’s gay son charted his path

In a column in Monday's Yale Daily News, Will Portman describes his emotional 'coming out' journey, and how it led his conservative dad, Sen. Rob Portman, to support gay marriage.

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This undated photo provided by the office of US Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio shows Senator Portman (r.) and his son, Will. Senator Portman is now supporting gay marriage and says his reversal on the issue began when he learned that Will is gay.

Office of US Sen. Rob Portman/AP/File

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For politicians who have a change of heart about gay marriage – see Obama, Barack – figuring out how and when to “come out” is a delicate task.  

But for the gay teenage child of a prominent Republican politician with national ambitions – and a record of opposing any expansion of gay rights – coming out may seem so risky, so emotionally fraught, as to be not worth it.

That latter scenario is where Will Portman found himself, the son of Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, just two years ago as a freshman at Yale University. In a column in Monday’s Yale Daily News, young Mr. Portman – now a junior – describes the difficult process of coming out to his parents, his keen awareness of the political implications for his father, and the hope that his family’s story can be a positive example for anyone who is “closeted and afraid.”

The gay relative of another prominent conservative – Chief Justice John Roberts – made news Sunday when the Los Angeles Times reported that Justice Roberts’s lesbian cousin would be attending this week’s US Supreme Court arguments on gay marriage as his guest. That tells us exactly nothing about how Roberts might ultimately rule on gay marriage, but it does point to a simple fact: that many people have relatives and/or friends who are gay, a fact that can affect one’s views of this fast-evolving social issue.

Which brings us back to the Portman family. Senator Portman made headlines earlier this month by announcing that he now supports gay marriage – an unusual step for a top Republican, who was on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s short list for running mate. In his recent gay-marriage announcement, Portman also told the world that his son was gay – a fact already known to family and friends, but until then, not a part of the senator’s public profile.

“Some people have criticized my dad for waiting for two years after I came out to him before he endorsed marriage for gay couples,” writes Will Portman. “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.”

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