Ultra-conservative Ohio Senator Rob Portman has changed his life-long position and now supports same-sex marriage—because, he says, his son is gay.
While this change is good news for progressives, wanting equal rights for your son is a poor reason to support equal rights for a class of people. It reflects the same kind of small-minded tribalism that’s preventing most of Africa and the Arab world from ever creating secular democracies. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, “voting” is simple: Kurds vote for Kurds, Shia for Shia, Sunnis for Sunnis, etc.. This isn’t voting in any civil sense, its tribal warfare brought indoors.
There are still no civic institutions knitting together the “countries” of Iraq or Afghanistan, or of Syria, Lebanon, Albania, Rwanda, Sudan, and other places where ethnicity and family history are more important than national identity.
Senator Portman sees public policy as a way of comforting HIS family, not of nourishing the American people. His statements this week showed no recognition of any actual principle of fairness. He acknowledges that his past opposition to civil rights for gay people is rooted in his faith tradition—itself a bizarre (if too-common) distortion of his legislative responsibility. He now says that he sees gay couples’ desire to marry as a "tribute" to marriage rather than a threat (recalling the old fear that giving Blacks civil rights would endanger the rights of Whites). He also says his new position is rooted in the Biblical value of "compassion."
But as inappropriate as it is to reference his new interpretation of the Bible to justify a legislative position, he isn’t extending this “compassion” to any other Americans in any other situations.
This is a mind that has NOT opened. As Portman himself said, he’s “had a change of heart based upon a personal experience”—not social science, not Constitutional analysis, not a desire to extend America’s sweet promises to all its inhabitants.
In order to implement this Biblical “compassion” among the rest of his eleven million non-gay constituents, will Portman require other "personal experiences"—a daughter who needs an abortion, a son who marries outside his race, a grandchild with a mental illness, an elderly parent with Alzheimer's who can’t afford medical care? For the good of the nation, should we hope that Portman’s brother is swept up in an FBI sting while enjoying age-play fantasies in an adult chat room?
Our government confers dozens of civil rights on everyone who marries. Thus, the Constitution requires one of two things: that all adults should be eligible to marry, or that the government stop privileging married people and simply go out of the marriage business.
I am pleased to have Portman’s support for extending the option of marriage to non-heterosexual Americans. But he's just another politician selfishly using the law to take care of himself. Instead of voting in a way that lines his pocket, he’s now voting to enrich his son’s life. Yes, other gay men and women will benefit, too. But anyone else who needs “compassion”—or as it should be called, civil rights—will have to wait until the next development in Portman’s personal life.