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