16 Mar 2013

Some Republicans break ranks on gay marriage

9:34 pm on 16 March 2013

The US Republican Party says it will continue to oppose gay marriage, despite one of its most high profile politicians announcing he is going against the party line.

Senator Rob Portman says he changed his stance after learning two years ago his 21-year-old son, Will, was gay, the ABC reports.

In New Zealand, the marriage equality bill to change the Marriage Act so that two people - regardless of their gender - can marry has passed through two readings at Parliament and been sent to a select committee for further work.

In America, the senator from Ohio had supported the Defence of Marriage Act in 1996 but says he now favours its repeal.

"The joy and the stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years, I want all three of my kids to have - including our son who is gay," he says.

"Ultimately, for me, it came down to the Bible's overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God."

Mr Portman wrote in Ohio's Columbus Dispatch: "I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married."

"That isn't how I've always felt. As a Congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then, something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way."

Gay rights equated to civil rights

It was the latest show of public support for gay rights after president Barack Obama announced last year that he approved of gay marriage, and in his inaugural speech in January, he equated gay rights with civil rights.

In response to Mr Portman's announcement, the Republican speaker John Boehner says he still believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments later this month in two cases related to gay marriage.

One challenges the 1996 federal Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In a related case, the court will also hear arguments that question a California law, known as Proposition 8, banning gay marriage.

The Republican Party has become increasingly split on the gay marriage issue, with some arguing that socially conservative positions such as opposition to same-sex marriage are contributing to the party's election losses.

An early Republican favourite for the 2016 presidential race, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, staged a defence of traditional marriage in a high-profile speech to a conservative conference on Thursday.

"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot," the 41-year-old Cuban-American said.

But Republican strategist John Feehery says that Mr Portman's announcement could change attitudes in the party.