Everyone was on Cloud Nine last week when Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced he was supporting same-sex marriage because his son was gay. Of course, he also said he wouldn’t take a leadership role in the fight for marriage equality. And, we can’t forget that he was only to happy to vote for DOMA—and try to ban gay adoption in DC—when he didn’t know he had a homo in the family.
Just how transformative is it to find out you have an LGBT child or sibling when you’re a high-powered Republican? Below, we take a look at eight GOP stalwarts with queer kin and see how they line up with the gay community.
Sonny Bono/Mary Bono Mack
Chaz Bono was still identifying as a lesbian when her father, former Palm Springs mayor and pop icon Sonny Bono, was elected to the House of Representatives.
Though he was publicly supportive of his gay daughter, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. “I’m not homophobic, I’m not a bigot, I’m not pandering to hatred,” he said. ”I simply can’t handle [gay marriage]. It’s nothing else.”
After his death in a 1998 skiing accident, Bono’s then-wife and Chaz’s step-mom, Mary, was elected to his seat in the House.
Fallout: In 2007 Mary married Rep. Connie Mack IV, a noted foe of equality who voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and against the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After Mary and Connie were unseated by Democrats in November, she joined more than 100 Republicans in signing a Supreme Court brief in support of same-sex marriage.
Colorado State Rep. Marsha Looper (R-El Paso County)
Marsha Looper’s son was outted accidentally last summer when her campaign manager forwarded an email praising the Colorado Republican for voting against the state’s civil-unions bill even though she “has a homosexual son.”
Looper was livid, telling The Denver Post she was very disappointed that one of her family members was roped into “policy discussions.” “These are very intimate issues,” she said at the time. “I love my son. I always will. He has said, ‘Mom, I want my privacy.’”
Colorado State Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose)
Yes, there was more than one Colorado lawmaker with a gay kid who voted against the state’s civil-unions bill. (There are allegedly four in all.)
Rep. Coram said he was proud of his gay son but couldn’t go against the will of his conservative constituents. When the bill died on the House floor, Dee Coram told The Denver Post he was disappointed in his father: “There’s always a time to lead and there’s always a time to follow. He was given a time to lead, and he didn’t do it. He could have, and should have, been the deciding vote.”
Fallout: After the November elections saw Democrats take the Legislature, a civil-unions bill passed both houses and is expected to be signed by Gov. Hickenlooper.
When Newt foisted his Contract with America on the American public in the mid-1990s his half-sister, Candace Gingrich, stepped forward as what she called an “accidental activist,” standing as a counterpoint to her reactionary sibling and working with HRC on LGBT issues.
Fallout: While running for president in 2012, Gingrich called same-sex marriage “pagan behavior.” After the GOP had its ass handed to it in November, though, he demurred, saying that homosexuality “is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to… accommodate and deal with reality.”
Newt even predicted that “in a number of American states – and it will be more after 2014 – gay relationships will be legal, period.” Not so much a change of heart as a reading of the leaves.
Meanwhile Candace, who appeared on Friends as the minister who wed Ross’s lesbian ex-wife and her girlfriend, married her own girlfriend, Rebecca Jones in 2009. It’s her first, to Newt’s three.
In November, Johnson resurrected the spirit of his dead gay brother to justify campaigning against Maine’s marriage-equality referendum. “I miss my brother and stay in contact with his partner because I love them both and know many other gay couples and love them dearly as well,” the GOP lawmaker explained. “The fact remains that God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, and we have no right to redefine marriage. It has taken me a while, but I have finally figured out that God’s plan is better than man’s plan in all aspects of life.”
Fallout: Maine voters passed marriage equality. Johnson probably faced a really uncomfortable Thanksgiving with his parents.
As vice president to George W. Bush, Cheney was part of a presidential administration that supported Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
His daughter, Mary Cheney, is openly gay, though, and by 2004, Cheney’s personal support for gay marriage was at odds with the party’s view.
In 2009, after leaving office, Cheney claimed “people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish. I do believe, historically, the way marriage has been regulated is at a state level. It’s always been a state issue, and I think that’s the way it ought to be handled today.
When Marylanders were voting on marriage equality in 2012, it’s been reported Cheney encouraged several state legislators to support same-sex marriage.
Though she was never elected to any public office, Schlafly has had a prominent role in GOP politics, especially after founding the right-wing Eagle Forum in the 1970s. (She did join “moral conservatives” in the 1960s in opposing desegregation.)
Schlafly opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, in part, because it was too gay-friendly—and later called same-sex marriage and civil unions “[a]ttacks on the definition of marriage… from the gay lobby seeking social recognition of their lifestyle.” She was also influential in getting opposition to marriage equality installed as a plank in the Republicans’ 2004 party platform.
All this despite the fact that her oldest son, John, was outed by Queer Week magazine in 1992. Schlafly acknowledged that John was gay, but insisted “he supports me in everything I do.”
Fallout: Not much. Schlafly, now in her late 80s, still spreads her message of hate among the Republican faithful. And John, a staffer at the Eagle Forum, is her right-hand gay. “Gays have all the same civil and political rights as everyone else,” he told the L.A. Times in 2004. “The rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”