I was seventeen when I came to the belief that gays should be allowed to be married. It was the late 90’s. This was not a mainstream view at the time. In my high school English class, we had to write a persuasive essay on our view on one of a number of topics, including this one, and there were three people who wrote against gay marriage and myself who wrote in favor of it. The teacher was a born-again Christian. I did not need a gay sibling or friend to sway me on the issue. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t like most of the openly gay people I knew at the time. Since I was seventeen, my views on abortion, the death penalty, foreign policy, taxation, spending, have all changed at least once. My support for gay marriage never has. Not even when I became a Republican in college.
I’d like to think that I have some credibility on this issue.
For Bob Portman, it did (seem to) require a gay son to come around on the issue of gay marriage. It would be better if such things were not required. It may be, as comment after comment on OTB has suggested, evidence of the moral inferiority or bigotedness of Republicans that this is so. But the nature of the Republican Party is not news. A staunchly conservative senator coming out against his party on this hot-button issue, however, is. And it is a positive development.
Not long ago, erstwhile supporter of gay marriage Laura Bush asked to be removed from TV ads in support of the issue. Like Portman, Dick Cheney has a gay offspring and came around on the issue. But Cheney has been tepid on the issue, even after retiring from public life. Laura Bush has never held public office. Portman is a sitting US senator with (until now?) a real potential future in the party. Rather than being tepid, Portman wrote an advocacy piece in the Columbus Dispatch.
Whether Portman is an opportunist, a bigot who only opened his mind due to personal circumstance, or whatever, really doesn’t matter. Honestly, doing what he (and Cheney) have done when finding out your child is gay is not the only course of action. But even leaving that aside, this is a positive development and I’ve been frustrated at much of the response focused on party rather than the issue at hand.
When it comes to this issue, there are three things I want: First, I want gay marriage to become a reality in all fifty states. Second, I want it to not be the hot-button issue it is right now. I won’t get what I want completely on either front, I don’t think, but on the latter point I do think we can get to the point where Democrats are united and Republicans take a live-and-let-live attitude to make room for forward-thinking politicians not from the South and other select regions. This is why we need Portman and even Dick Cheney. In fact, the more historically conservative the better. The bigger cover created for right-leaners as possible, the better. The more conservative leaders creating that cover (“Hey, fellow Republican, I’m with Dick Cheney on this issue!”) the better.
One of the biggest weapons in our arsenal on this issue is basic decency. While the Portman/Cheney route may not be the only course of action upon finding out about a gay son or daughter, it is the decent one. Over and over again, we need to be asking opponents of gay marriage how they would respond in the shoes of a parent with a gay child. Would they want them to be able to be married? Would they want them to be able to have families to supply them with grandchildren. A great many will remain obstinate, but over time I believe that will become the stated reason why many others won’t. The more we want to see opposition to gay marriage as an untenable and unseemly view, the more we need unlikely people to come around. Regardless of how it happens.
We’re going to win this, at least to some extent. Both in terms of law and the acceptance of that law. I’d rather it be sooner rather than later. It won’t be soon, but I don’t think we have to wait for the younger generation to be the bulk of the population before it can be relegated to, for lack of a better term, oldperson-think or fundie-think to oppose it.
Until we’ve won this, the doorways to changing your mind need to be left as wide open as possible.