WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has become one of the most prominent elected Republicans to announce his support for same-sex marriage, a "change of heart" that he said began when his son told him that he was gay.
Portman, who was on Mitt Romney's shortlist of potential running mates in 2012, told CNN on Thursday that he views his new stance as consistent with his political philosophy, "including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is a building block of society."
"This is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son," he said.
Portman's announcement, which he also explained in an Op-Ed article in the Columbus Dispatch, comes as the GOP is in the midst of a post-election period of introspection and just a week before the Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments on whether to uphold Proposition 8, California's 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex unions.
Ohio also has a voter-passed measure that bans same-sex marriage. The state was one of the major battlegrounds in a 2004 effort by Republicans to raise the profile of the issue by putting measures on state ballots that party strategists hoped would draw conservatives to the polls. But in the intervening years, a rapid change in public opinion has shifted the issue from being one that may have helped conservatives to one that appears to work against them.
Portman told Ohio reporters Friday that he might support a new attempt to overturn the same-sex marriage ban in his state, depending on its wording.
Portman said he revealed his change in position now, two years after his son first came out to him and his wife, in part because of the pending Supreme Court case. The announcement also comes as American Conservative Union holds its CPAC conference in suburban Washington, one of the largest gatherings of conservatives annually.
Speaking at that conference Thursday, another leading Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, addressed the issue by saying: "Just because I believe states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot."
Portman also stated that the process of changing laws regarding marriage "should come about through the democratic process in the states."
"Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them," he said.
Until recently, many conservatives backed measures to take that decision away from states. Last year’s Republican platform, for example, called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in all states.
It was only last May that President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, just after he began officially campaigning for reelection.
"I think that the same evolution that I've gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through," Obama said at a news conference last month, noting that more states have extended rights to same-sex couples.
In the interview with CNN, Portman said that as Romney considered him as a potential running mate last year, he told the Republican presidential candidate and his team about his son's sexual orientation. When Romney chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP nominee told Portman that the revelation about his son had no effect on the decision, Portman said.
Portman, who served in the George W. Bush administration as budget director and U.S. Trade Representative, also said he sought advice of former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian.
"He was a good person to talk to because he also was surprised by the news, in that case, you know, his wonderful daughter, who he loves very much. And it forced him to rethink the issue too, and over time, he changed his view on it," he said.