Friday, March 15, 2013

Gay marriage remains divisive issue, but only for Republicans

By Nathan Rothwell 

It’s astounding how quickly one’s views can change when the issue hits a little closer to home.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), at one point considered a frontrunner for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2012, recently penned an editorial coming out in favor of marriage equality in an Ohio newspaper.

Once an opponent of same-sex marriage rights, Portman changed his views upon learning that his son is gay. In Portman’s words, learning this “prompted him to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing [Portman’s wife] Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”

Portman deserves to be commended for valuing his son’s wishes, as well as the wishes of others, enough to reconsider his antiquated views. However, he went on to add another passage of note:

“British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.”

I found this quote particularly interesting. One would think that the notion of marriage equality would appeal directly to American conservatives for this very reason. Champions of small government and personal liberty have a difficult time arguing that it is in fact okay for government to be large enough to tell us who we can marry, and only grant the personal liberty to do so if our chosen partners fall within the appropriate, government-sanctioned definition of “marriage.”

Nevertheless, some conservative leaders still attempt to do so, dressing their bigotry up as their own arguments for freedom.

"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot," said Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to the Conservative Political Action Conference last Thursday. In short, it’s not that Rubio and others want to prevent marriage equality; they’re simply opposed to the federal government telling states what to do.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I'll point out that a similar argument was once made in defense of slavery. The same defense was also used decades ago to oppose desegregation and interracial marriage.  When the right of marriage becomes a right of every American, regardless of sexual orientation, Rubio’s words will seem just as silly as they did in defense of slavery and segregation.

Portman’s editorial speaks to how silly it is that social issues are part of the conservative cause in the first place.  Opposition to issues such as gay marriage and abortion are deeply rooted in religious beliefs, and Republicans have cynically made these issues part of their platform for decades in order to bring single-issue voters into their fold.  As history marches forward, and the LGBT community becomes fully welcomed into American society, Republicans are quickly finding that their opposition to gay marriage earns them fewer and fewer votes.

This reality will take center stage as the Supreme Court is set to rule later this month on whether states can impose bans on same-sex marriage. As is the reality that gay people are all around us. They are our parents, our children, our relatives, and our dear friends. When this became clear to Rob Portman, he reevaluated his views and came to the only logical conclusion. I hope that every Republican comes to know that they have a gay relative or friend, or are perhaps gay themselves, and are forced to reexamine the issue with the knowledge that they can't deny rights to people who they know and love.

Truth be told, whether they know it or not… they probably already do.

(This article has been updated to reflect that Senator Portman's first name is Rob, not Ron).


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