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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: Gay Marriage

Interview

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BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive, a stunning reversal by a leading conservative on the issue of gay marriage.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio made the declaration to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Portman, thank you for inviting us here today.

And you invited us to make an announcement.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Well, yes. Thank you for coming.

I am announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about. It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry.

And during my career in the House and also the last couple years here in the Senate, I have taken a position against gay marriage, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition.

And I had a very personal experience, which is my son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice and that he -- you know, that's just part of who he is and he had been that way ever since he could remember. And that launched an interesting process for me, which was kind of rethinking my position, you know, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders, and going through a process of, at the end, changing my position on the issue.

I -- I now believe that people ought to have the right to get married.

BASH: Talk a little bit more about the moment that your son came out to you and your wife.

PORTMAN: Well, my son is very close to me and my wife. And he -- he had worked on the campaign and so we got even closer during the campaign. He came to me as a college freshman and said, you know, after the campaign was over, after I was already elected to the Senate, that, you know, he wanted to tell us that there is something about him we didn't know, as well as we thought we knew him. And it hasn't, of course, changed our view at all of him.

BASH: What was your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love, support, you know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprise?

PORTMAN: Surprise. Yes.

BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea, yes.

BASH: Did he ask you to change your position on gay marriage and gay issues?

PORTMAN: Not initially. In fact, I wasn't thinking about policy or, you know, positions. I was just thinking about him as my son and someone who I love very much and am very proud of. So, that was not an initial discussion. But over time, yes, we started talking about that more, and he was helpful as you can imagine and giving me some of his perspective on it and information about it. He's a very bright kid.

BASH: Did he push you?

PORTMAN: No, not really. I mean, I think he's happy and, you know, proud that we've come to this point. But he let it be my decision just as, you know, it's going to be his decision as to the role he plays going forward in this whole issue. He's, you know, I think, again, happy that I've ended up where I have, but he is a private guy. He's like most college kids, normal college kid who doesn't want to necessarily be out front on this issue but it's part of who he is.

BASH: Does he -- he obviously knows that you're doing this. How does he feel about you deciding to take the political plunge like this and make an announcement that you're flipping your position on this issue?

PORTMAN: Well, he is on spring break right now, so he was here with me for a few days this week just hanging out and going to meetings with me and so on. So he knows what I'm doing. And he's back home now.

But, you know, again, I think he's happy that I'm doing it. He also realizes this will probably put a little more focus on our family and that isn't necessarily something we're comfortable with, but I felt it was important for me to come forward and talk about this, one, because I've made my decision. Second, because this court case is coming up and I anticipate I'll be getting a lot of questions from members of the media about what my position is as will other members of the House and the Senate. And I wanted to be absolutely clear and not mislead anybody.

So he didn't dictate the timing but the timing in a way is a combination of both coming to a change of heart on it, a change of decision, and feeling comfortable about that. And, second, the fact that I think this discussions going to be one that we're going to be having here in the Congress after the oral arguments at the end of this month and up to the decision and beyond.

BASH: You say you'll support that. Changing your position is one thing and, certainly, a big deal. But, then, are you going to take it to the next level and be activist on it? Are you going to go home to Ohio and say let's change this state law and get rid of the ban on gay marriage? Which is probably one of the -- one of the most sweeping in the country.

PORTMAN: Well, people are going to know my position. But as you know, I've never really been involved in this issue one way or the other. I have voted consistent with again my beliefs at the time.

BASH: But does your son and the new experience with your son change that? Will you be active on it?

PORTMAN: You know, I'm kind of an economic policy wonk. That's why I got in this business. That's what I've always focused on. So, how to get the economy going, get jobs back.

And I spent, you know, hours this week in the budget committee. I'll be going back soon. The budget is on the floor next week. And those will continue to be the issues that I'll put my primary focus on.

BASH: And what do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says, I'm so glad he changed his position but why did it take him learning that he has a gay son? Why didn't he as my representative care about my rights before, before that?

PORTMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, I've had a change of heart based upon a personal experience. That's certainly true. Dick Cheney I think had a similar experience. I've talked to him, by the way, about this.

And, you know, it wasn't an issue I had given much thought to prior to that. Maybe I should have, but the reason I got into public service was because of my concern on the economic and budget issues. That's always been my focus.

BASH: You just walked into the very last question I promise I will ask which was going to be about Dick Cheney. You said you did talk to him. Did you call him for advice because he had a situation very similar?

PORTMAN: Yes. I mean, I spoke to him personally -- I actually met with him.

BASH: What did he tell you?

PORTMAN: Rob, do what's in your heart. You know? I mean, he was -- he was a good person to talk to because he also was surprised by the news and 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.

And I followed his advice. You know, I followed my heart.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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