MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, announced today that he's reversing his opposition to same-sex marriage. Portman's op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch makes him the first GOP senator to publicly support gay marriage. He said he made the switch because of a personal family experience. Portman's college-age son told his family in 2011 that he is gay.
In the past, Portman actively supported a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman. He's had prominence in the Republican Party, not just as a senator. Last year, Portman was considered to be a leading candidate for the job of Mitt Romney's running mate. The announcement quickly became discussion fodder at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C.
NPR's Don Gonyea is there.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Gay marriage was already a hot topic at this conference before Portman's news. Overall, public opinion continues to shift toward acceptance. Democrats overwhelmingly back gay marriage, as do half of independents. But among Republicans, fewer than one in four support it, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. Younger Republicans and libertarians have pushed the party to rethink its position.
CPAC attendee Joshua Clark(ph), a college student from Massachusetts, called the Portman announcement important.
JOSHUA CLARK: I think Portman coming out and supporting it shows that now we can move forward. It's just like civil rights. They had small rumblings of it and then once it started to become a big issue, we had people rethinking their positions and changing their minds. I mean, that just shows the party can move forward.
GONYEA: It's easy to find that view among young people at CPAC, but it's still a minority view here. Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the Iowa organization called The Family Leader, is one of the nation's leading evangelical Christian political activists. Here's his reaction to Portman.
BOB VANDER PLAATS: As a dad, you know, I can definitely relate to him and his love for his son. A lot of people ask me, well, Bob, how about one of your sons? And I'd say, well, you know, it would never change the love I would have for my sons, but it also would not change my view on God's design for marriage.
GONYEA: Which he says, is that marriage is between one man and one woman. Sixty-three-year-old Pamela Murray(ph) is a conservative Republican activist from Saratoga Springs, New York. She said she didn't know much about Senator Portman's situation.
PAMELA MURRAY: It's a personal thing and I'm not real sure on the whole story, but I think, you know, the gay issue is one that I don't think should be as front and center as it is.
GONYEA: She did say she doesn't think same-sex marriage should be allowed, that the party should not change its position, adding that there are other acceptable options, such as civil unions for gay couples.
MURRAY: Gay people should have their rights and they should, I think, have the civil rights that everybody has, but I don't think they should call it marriage.
GONYEA: Murray is not alone in voicing some frustration at how often she's asked about gay marriage and the Republican Party. But Senator Portman's decision is the latest indication that the issue won't recede from the GOP. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.