What matters most

A conservative lawyer fought against gay marriage — until his stepdaughter came out

Father and daughter
(Image credit: (Thinkstock))

The personal is the political, so it is said, and every week brings new proof of this maxim's truth. A year ago, conservative attorney Charles Cooper appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue in favor of California's ban on gay marriage. Today, Cooper — a self-described constitutional "originalist" who served in the Reagan administration — is planning his stepdaughter Ashley's marriage to "a lovely young woman named Casey." Ashley's happy, Cooper explained, noting, "My views evolve on issues like this the same as other people's do." Exactly so. Just consider the example of Dick Cheney, a man not known for warm and fuzzy liberal sentiments. After his lesbian daughter, Mary, married her partner in 2012, Cheney pronounced himself "delighted." When your gay children, siblings, cousins, and friends come out, you just want them to be happy, like anyone else.

Decades ago, I saw my father go through a similar evolution. A conservative World War II vet, he pretended not to know my brother Byron was gay, and uneasily kept his distance from my brother's dedicated partner. Then, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Byron fell gravely ill. All reservations fell away; my dad literally took Byron in his arms and carried him into a hospital. For the next year, he, my mom, and Byron's partner, Johnny, became a seamless team devoted to my brother's care and comfort. At the memorial service, Dad flung his arm over Johnny's shoulder and mixed with a room full of gay men, sharing stories about my brother, laughing with them, hugging them, crying. They loved Byron, and so did he, and nothing else mattered. That's the power of love: It's always what matters most.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.