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On Rob Portman’s Marriage Equality Reversal

Posted on the 15 March 2013 by Kzawadzki @kzawadzki

Among the headlines this week has been news that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has reversed his stance on marriage equality – or, as is still the colloquial, gay marriage. Why? Well, two years ago, his son came out to his family.

He said this in a recent interview:

It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years.

A beautiful sentiment. I applaud Sen. Portman for the “evolution” on the matter, and certainly am happy that he’s able to love his son, his child, his family, unconditionally, and has now come around to believing in more equal rights for his son. But a cynical part of me can’t help but be critical…

Rob Portman

Rob Portman (Photo credit: Be the Change, Inc.)

I mean, I believe that gay rights are human rights, hence why I refer to the issue of marriage for LGBT, for instance, as “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage.” So even though I try not to presume to be morally superior, I guess I can’t help but wonder how a person can not support equal rights.

So while it’s great that Sen. Portman has come after it hit so close to home for him, “better late than never” seems like a cop-out to me.

Our lawmakers in state capitals and our federal capital discuss and vote on bills daily that sometimes have no bearing on their own personal lives or affect them far less than they do the rest of us. Shouldn’t we be able to demand, and expect, that they step outside the tiny bubble of their own personal lives when considering various clauses in various bills and weighing support or opposition to them?

It shouldn’t have taken having someone in his family be gay for Sen. Portman to revise his stance on the matter. As a lawmaker, family or not, he and his peers should be able to achieve an understanding of why socially progressive activists push for equal rights for GLBT people in the eyes of the law and against continued state-sanctioned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This just shows the state of our lawmaking today… If it doesn’t affect them or their loved ones somehow, it’s totally okay to adopt ignorant or regressive positions, or sweep them under the rug altogether. But while I can’t fault the senator for benefiting from a fresh perspective and shifting gears accordingly, with all due respect, again, he and his peers in Washington, D.C., legislate daily on matters and bills that can and often do affect people on a national scale.

If that’s what it takes to change even the most stalwart minds in positions of power, maybe we should put them on minimum wage and see what they think about raising it then. But my problem is that the various issues of the day, these are things many people deal with in their daily lives – as far as the human experience goes, that knowledge and awareness should be enough to inform our lawmakers’ consciences even if it’s not family that deals with it.

Whether something touches their families or not can be a factor in their decisions, sure, but even if it doesn’t, it affects people in their own constituencies. And if they don’t take that into account until it’s their own family, you have to wonder if or how much they listen to their own constituents and their concerns.

What excuse is there for failing to recognize people’s right to fair treatment in the eyes of the law if not yet in society at large?

I mean that just sounds to me like saying that it’s okay for white people, then, to not support equal treatment of ethnic minorities because, hey, unless you know someone “of color” in your inner circle or family who has suffered some form of racial injustice, it’s okay to be ignorant and not think racism or racial discrimination is a big deal. Or like it’s okay for men to be opposed to gender equality, as well, because, hey, we’ve never been women and had to deal with things like pay inequality or pregnancy or maternity, so it’s totally fine if we shoot down any attempts to achieve more gender equality.

It’s not.

Again, it’s great that Sen. Portman is finally able to acknowledge that homosexual people are people, too, and they deserve the same rights as heterosexuals have enjoyed. But the fact that it took his son coming out to him for him to reach that pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow is emblematic of a greater problem. It’s a problem pervasive not just in the halls of Congress but in our society at large: If it doesn’t affect us or our closest people directly, we either oppose it on the principle of ignorance or just dismiss it and like cowards plead the Fifth.

Having some personal connection to an issue is always going to offer more perspective. But when the demands – marriage, access to benefits, adoption – are not at all unreasonable, it should take far less than that.

In pleas to access basic rights, just being human should be enough.

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