Writings and observations

stapilus RANDY

The View
from Here

A couple of thoughts about the Senator Rob Portman/gay marriage story, tangentially about the issue involved but mostly about the way Portman arrived at his reassessment.

The story is that the Ohio Republican senator, who until this week has been firmly opposed to allowing same-sex marriage, has changed his mind. He told CNN, “I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay.” Learning about his son’s orientation and life preferences, he indicated, was central in his thinking.

A lot of people have changed their minds over the years on this subject. 15 years ago, polling showed that just over a quarter of Americans thought same-sex marriage should be allowed; back then, I was among the majority who thought not. In the last decade especially, opinions have moved drastically, and now a majority around the country thinks it ought to be allowed; and once again, I’m in the majority having changed my mind too.

What changed, what caused that change, is something worth exploring. In my case, the evolution started with a general acceptance of a broadly understood norm, that marriage was between a man and a woman, period. Until not too many years ago, the subject wasn’t much publicly debated, and – for many people – not deeply thought about.

It moved to the front burner partly, I suspect, in response to two things. One is that more people have tended to become more open about homosexuality, bringing more people into contact with the impact of policies including those concerning marriage. (The don’t ask don’t tell military debate was part of that too.) And, a then-pointless political opposition to same-sex marriage, pushed as a political wedge issue about a decade ago, wound up exposing the emptiness of the argument against: Simply, the case against seems awfully thin compared to the case in favor, in which actual people are demonstrated actual and easily corrected damage to their lives.

The shift of attitude among Americans probably relates, to some degree, to those two factors (much as they may overlap). Some people, and I would be one of them, considered the arguments pro and con over a period of years, and changed point of view after considering them. You could call this the legislative approach, since it involves weighing the pros and cons of a policy.

The other reason for the shift may be personal, and this is where Portman comes in. Probably like many other people (former Vice President Dick Cheney, for another), he changed his mind after direct exposure, in his own family, to the consequences of the policy. You could call this the personal approach.

So, at base line, this measure of criticism for Portman: It took a personal case, involving a person very close to him, to persuade him of the need to make the change. That’s not a legislative approach, because most issues around us – and most issues facing members of Congress – don’t allow for that kind of direct, personal, intensive involvement.

For most Americans, there’s no real implication in that. For a member of Congress (much less a senator), there’s a real implication: What conclusions should we draw about Portman’s ability to make meaningful, informed judgments in cases where simply a weighing of the evidence is involved? He surely knows no more about the issue now than he did three years ago; all that changed was the personal factor. Is that how members of Congress should make the law?

Share on Facebook



PRIVATE SCHOOL CREDITS The Idaho House Revenue and Taxation Committee has voted (12-4) to extend tax credits to scholarship funds specifically aimed at private schools. From a news report: “Coeur d’Alene Republican Sen. Bob Nonini said this could actually save Idaho money, because reducing public-school enrollment would also cut Idaho’s per-student funding obligation.” This seems legally problematic, however – it has the look of back-door funding for private schools – and it effectively removes funds from public schools to be funneled to private.

INSURANCE FRAUD Oregon legislators are looking seriously at Senate Bill 686 which is aimed at allowing the state (and, depending on final versions, maybe others) to sue insurance companies for fraud – such as when they convey the impression something is covered, and then decline to pay. From a statement by sponsor Senator Chip Shields: “Too many businesses, medical providers, and consumers tell me that their insurance company is driving them to bankruptcy. If your insurance company blatantly won’t pay the reimbursement that their big premiums or contracts are supposed to cover, it’s wrong. It’s time the Legislature protects small businesses and consumers by removing the insurance exemption.” This would set up in law the concept of insurance fraud running in a different direction than the one we’re most accustomed to (and comfortable for insurers).

Share on Facebook

First Take

rainey BARRETT


Check any dictionary in any language and you’ll usually find these two definitions for the word “politician” among the several listed. One will be “a person holding political office.” The second will use the word “devious” in some way. A descriptive word you’ll never find there is “love.”

While historically an honorable profession, our recent experiences have made us use other words to define politicians. “Self-serving.” “Deceitful.” “Dishonest.” “Uncaring.” “Ignorant.” “Out-of-touch.” And worse. Too often, they are apt.

I’d like to see that word – love – used in politics more often because it can be a great “leveler.” In recent days, it publically appears so for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), father of a gay son. Long an outspoken conservative voice opposing gay marriage and any other homosexual recognition efforts, Portman is now getting a lot of sympathy for changing his gay marriage stance. It’s no longer just another “safe” political topic to include in speeches to his “conservative” base. It’s become a personal issue dealing with a loved one. Well, good for him. Let’s show the Portman’s – father and son – a little love. But not too much for the Senator.

Portman is only the most recent ardent Republican foe of gay marriage to seem to have a “come-to-Jesus” moment on the matter. Probably the most notable figure to be similarly affected is former VP Dick Cheney. Early in his career in Congress, neo-con Cheney’s was just another contemptible voice loudly damning the country’s gay community. Then – BANG. Suddenly he had a teen lesbian daughter who “came out.” Cheney quickly did a 180 and said marriage should be allowed for “any two people who love each other.” Very similar to the Portman “conversion.”

Except for one thing. When Mitt Romney looked around for a vice presidential running mate over a year ago, Portman’s name was right there near the top of the list. To Romney, Portman was the quintessential, very compatible candidate. Experienced. Squeaky clean. Popular with the GOP base. Represented a large swing state. Matching positions on all the major issues. Including Portman’s oft-pronounced opposition to – wait for it – gay marriage and other issues of homosexuality.

Romney’s search team called him in many months before the election. He was vetted in all possible ways. It was then – over a year ago – that Portman told Romney’s people his son was gay. He was immediately dropped from consideration. Banished.

Which is why I said hold up a bit for all that love stuff. Because Portman’s high-profile and very public voice of opposing homosexual issues has been constant all these many months. Unchanged. Until March 14, 2013. When his son’s sexual orientation became public. But Portman admits his son “came out” to him more than two years ago.

Now the Senator is making the talk show rounds – portraying himself as a loving, understanding and accepting father. Which I’m certain he is. But he’s also “deceitful” and “dishonest.” And “devious.” The other words that too often describes today’s politicians. Because – in all those months – for more than two years – he maintained his public, anti-gay positions in the public conduct of his office. His “Damascus Road” conversion came only when the family secret was suddenly media fodder. March 14, 2013. But it was something he’d known for two years.

Whatever your views on gay marriage or any other issue, they’re your views and a part of who you are. You’re entitled to them. But – if you hold yourself out for elective office – if you repeatedly try to win public support to get and keep you there – if you espouse positions on issues political and social directly contrary to your personal practices – all those negative words apply. And more.

Portman’s conduct during all that time had less to do with love and more to do with covering his political butt.

I applaud Sen. Portman for loving and supporting his son. But there’s a bit of hypocrisy here that taints the story. Given the length of time he knew of the situation – while keeping his crafted public image of being a staunch opponent of the same reality he knew at home – that undermines the media trek he’s now on.

Share on Facebook