When I first saw the endless array of headlines related to Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s public announcement that he’s changed his position on same sex marriage, I immediately assumed the Left must be driving the conversation. Every headline mentioned Portman’s son “coming out” as if that was the driving issue (or excuse) behind the reversal. I thought, the Left is doing what the Left typically does – minimize the impact of a Republican “doing the right thing” by throwing out the narrative that said Republican really had no other choice. Think of the GOP post-2012-election and immigration if you need an example. They don’t really support immigration reform, they just realized after November’s presidential election that they can’t win going forward unless they soften their tone on the “path to citizenship” side.
But as I read the Portman op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, I quickly realized how wrong my initial assumptions truly were. The reason Portman’s son is a fundamental part of this story is because he is the fundamental part of this story.
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.
Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.
At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.
I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.
His son comes out. Portman’s fatherly instincts kick in. He wants his child to be happy. He wants him to live a long and meaningful life. He wants his son to be able to share that with someone else the way he and his wife have for 26 years. All fair points, right?
That said, the question that has to be asked here is a simple one – where was the compassion, empathy, and understanding for the children of countless Americans that don’t happen to be Republican senators? Had Portman never really tried “walking a mile in their shoes?”
From where I sit, I see no good that can come from hammering a politician that evolves or comes around to a position one ultimately agrees with. While I’m certain the Left and the MSM will destroy Portman in the coming days for his previous position, that effort will only reveal the political motivations; not any empathy, compassion, or understanding of their own. Rather than praising a conservative senator for siding with his heart, they will lambaste him for only doing so because a personal relationship has “opened his eyes” to the matter.
And Portman does deserve a fair amount of “blame” – if there is truly any blame to be thrown around here – for that because of his decision to announce this reversal during CPAC and in an op-ed that focuses primarily on the son element of his deliberative process. Frankly, I’ve seen hundreds of conservative justifications for legalizing same sex marriage – or at least leaving the matter to the states – that are far more convincing and persuasive than that offered by Portman.
Instead, Portman’s op-ed reads like a personal venting. It looks like a plea for forgiveness and a rallying cry for acceptance – more from and for Republicans than anything else. His son came out in 2011, and he’s remained silent on the matter until now. Methinks this is a public demonstration to his son of what he has already told him privately – that he accepts him.
Only that level, I applaud it.
As I’ve said here last week when former President Bill Clinton reversed his position on DOMA…
From a practical perspective, I have always taken the position that a conservative should champion and be an advocate for stable and productive families and communities. They foster economic growth and help decrease the burden on government at every level. And while my personal view of “Marriage” is a sacred promise and bond between a man and a woman, I see no reason for the institution to be restrictive or exclusive – beyond the bounds of one’s own faith. In a broader sense, I see no reason for a man and a man or a woman and a woman not to be allowed to marry. I cannot fathom being told by a majority or a minority of any group that I cannot do something that causes no harm to others. Accordingly, I could never advocate doing the same thing to homosexual men or women that want to marry.
That said, I do believe “Marriage” was meant to be a matter reserved to the States, or the People. I say that without even an ounce of hesitation. I respect the right of California to act in its best interest just as I hope they respect the right of my state to do so as well. I believe when our Founders created this great nation, they envisioned a diverse group of people united around a common set of beliefs. But part of that belief set was the principle that Virginians were Virginians and Pennsylvanians were Pennsylvanians. We were united by and protected from government by an enumerated set of Rights. Marriage was not on that list. And I have yet to see cause for its inclusion; and would worry greatly about the consequences of this or any government treading on such scared ground.
That may not go “far enough” for some that see this issue different than I. It may go too far for some that share the rest of my political views. For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly content disappointing both.
Somewhere up there in the biographical portion on this website, I spell out my objectives for this site. Among them was a statement that guides me in every political discussion or debate – I do not endeavor to change minds but only to demonstrate the ability to do so. While I rarely trust a man or politician that changes his view on issues with situational expediency, I do believe it is possible for someone to admit his view was wrong, unsupported, or misguided. If, in politics and in life, we don’t have the flexibility to react to those revelations; I fail to see how we improve as a people or as a nation.
While I am anything but a “Living Document” evolving nation kind of guy or thinker, I do believe there is room in our Party and in the conservative movement for those willing to reexamine traditional “republican” positions that may have been based more on religious doctrine than actual Founding Principles. I do not share Portman’s personal connection to this issue; but I do share his ultimate position.
What cannot be overlooked – even though I almost did – was the impact this “news” may have had on the 2012 presidential race. Portman was considered to be atop the VP shortlist. If he knew of his son’s sexual orientation since 2011, it very well could have played a role in Romney choosing Ryan instead. Think of the field day the MSM and the Left would have had with scooping that story.
Reportedly, he told the Romney camp and they said it was no big deal. Right.