Republican Fathers, Their Gay Sons and the Moments of Truth: Unconditional Love or Rejection?
Last year a young man, and son of a prominent Republican Senator created shock waves when, by coming out, he changed the public policy of his Republican father. Will Portman came out to Senator Rob Portman, who previously had not supported marriage equality.
Rob Portman listened. Then he reflected. He realized the son he loved and knew was a truer representation of what it meant to be gay than all of his previous perceptions put together. He changed his stance and made the political scene aware: marriage equality could be a bi-partisan effort.
Like Will Portman, I am also the son of a staunch Republican dad to whom I came out. My dad is older than Rob Portman. He adheres very much to the viewpoints of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Rob Portman presumably knows all those people personally.
Like the Portmans, we too had our political theory versus family integrity moment. In 2000, another Republican father of a gay son, Pete Knight, placed an anti-same sex marriage initiative on the California ballot called Proposition 22. Knight, unlike Portman, faced the child he should have fought to protect and used his political infrastructure to his son’s detriment. He was determined to not only disapprove of who his son was, but to codify discrimination against him into the California legal system in a preemptive strike against same sex marriage.
As the proposition 22 campaign raged through the state, I made a point to avoid the discussion of the initiative with my dad. Even though my parents were supportive of me and my life, they still voted their dogma and exclusively supported conservative candidates and ballot measures. We argued politics constantly, but in this instance I avoided the whole election roster like the plague. I could not handle a discussion with them where they explained to me how they would vote for something that was tearing me apart.
My dad however insisted that we talk and review the entire ballot. We tussled on most…he, the right winger, dealing with his renegade progressive son. Then we got to proposition 22. My heart was sinking fast and every ounce of me was gearing down for the emotional fight I knew was going to happen. My dad brought up the initiative. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Mother and I have talked. We are dead set against this. There is no way that we would support anything like this.” My eyes welled up and through the tears I was fighting back, I looked over at my mother who nodded vehemently in agreement. “Thank you,” I whispered with all the forced energy I could muster.
I fully understand the emotion behind Will Portman’s tweet on the day his dad announced his change of position: “Especially proud of my dad today”. Rob Portman deserved that pride. Pete Knight and other fathers in our country have not stepped up as he did, and as my dad did in 2000.
There is an enormous part of life that is uncharted and as our children bring new challenges, we often need their input to help solve it. On gay rights issue, Harvey Milk predicted the Portman situation directly when he said, “Every gay person must come out…. Once they realize we are indeed their children, we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all.” Will Portman helped Rob Portman see that the myths, the lies and the innuendo were not true.
Rob Portman, and my dad, showed us all that love and family are bigger than politics. I won’t probably see eye to eye with them to follow the rest of their party line, but the fact that they have shown that they have the ability to listen, they have my sincere respect.
They are the kind of dads that I intend to be.
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