Feature

Gay marriage: The personal becomes political

Last week, Senator Rob Portman “announced a change of heart, saying he had decided to support same-sex marriage.”

In 1996, then-U.S. Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Three years later, he voted to prohibit gay couples from adopting. But two years ago, his college-age son Will told him he was gay. So last week, said Dan Zak in The Washington Post, Portman—now a senator—“announced a change of heart, saying he had decided to support same-sex marriage.” As a Christian, Portman said, he’d wrestled with this decision, but ultimately concluded that “all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joys and stability of marriage.” Advocates of marriage equality hailed the announcement as a turning point, while social conservatives criticized Portman for abandoning his principles. “There are absolutes, there is right and wrong,” said Traditional Values Coalition president Andrea Lafferty. “The tough part of being a parent is telling one of those young souls whom we have been charged with raising that he or she is wrong.”

Portman deserves credit for standing up to the bigots, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but pardon me if I don’t applaud. As a politician with power over other people’s lives, Portman has always had a responsibility to think about the impact of his votes on millions of gay Americans. The fact that he failed to do so until his own son’s happiness was at stake is a “confession of moral failure.” Sadly, said Matthew Yglesias in Slate.com, that failure is typical of conservative politicians. They invariably oppose universal health insurance, food stamps, and other social programs, for the simple reason that powerful people “never have poor kids.” Remember Sarah Palin’s sole exception to her scorn for social spending? Right: Programs for disabled children like hers.

Look—this is how human nature works, said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Portman may have taken the personal “route” to a more enlightened, compassionate view of gay people, but the real news here is that a conservative Republican now believes he can be “true to his heart without committing political suicide.” For the GOP, “the writing’s on the wall,” said Chris Cillizza in WashingtonPost.com, with 58 percent of Americans and a staggering 81 percent of those under 30 now favoring gay marriage. Republicans can’t afford to alienate their evangelical Christian base, so over time, they’ll just stop talking about the issue. “Entirely.”

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