Every now and then, rarely to be sure, a profile in courage comes to our attention. Somebody who does something brave, and when we hear about it, we know this is a person of great character, that this is someone who knew all the risks, but spoke up anyway.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio is not such a person.
The other day, as you may know, the senator changed his position on same sex marriage. He had always been against it, his opposition stemming from his religion, but now he is for it.
What changed his mind was that the issue hit home. His son is gay.
So it is understandable how Senator Portman’s evolution came about. He wants his son to be happy. That pretty much sums it up. But his change of heart, and the fact that as a Republican he spoke up about it, while noteworthy, is not courageous.
Senator Portman is one of those good Christians who thought same sex marriage was just plain wrong, until it wasn’t — until he wanted to show compassion to his son. Too bad the senator was never all that concerned about compassion for other people before he started thinking about his son. If he had a change of heart before he knew his son was gay, if he had spoken out before so many others — including conservative Republicans — had done the same thing … that would have shown courage.
The most vocal opponents of gay marriage in this country are devout Christians. The Bible, they say, tells them that homosexuality is wrong so how can gay marriage be right?
But no one is saying the Church has to condone gay marriage. No one is suggesting that ministers or priests have to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies. Religions set their own rules. That’s how it should be. But the broader society, the secular culture, has no obligation to follow those rules. We don’t live in a theocracy, thank God, despite the wishes of many good Christians.
My pal Bill O’Reilly and countless others who see themselves as traditionalists are fond of saying this is not a civil rights issue. Why not? If heterosexuals can marry and gays cannot, then one group has a greater right to pursue happiness than the other. Doesn’t that make it a civil rights issue?
Bill and the others say if we allow same sex marriage, by what logic can we prohibit Lenny from marrying a goat or Joey from marrying as many wives as will have him? Fair enough. But societies are allowed to draw lines. We do it all the time.
No serious person is arguing that if we forbid people from shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, that prohibition inevitably would lead to laws that silences other speech. If we ban citizens from possessing surface-to-air missiles is the next step a law that bans all guns? Some gun extremists may think so, but they’d be wrong. So are the people who think gay marriage will lead to man-goat marriage.
Laws change when attitudes change. If at some point society thinks polygamy is a good idea or human-animal marriage is an idea whose time has finally come, then we can re-visit the issue. Until them, I would advise those worried about such things to calm down.
And I have never been able to figure out how my heterosexual marriage would be adversely affected if two gay people got married. The answer we get from some conservatives is that the culture would be adversely affected. Kids should have a mother and a father, not two mothers or two fathers.
Ideally, there may be something to that. But millions of kids in America only have one parent these days. No one is proposing legislation requiring couples to stay married if kids are involved – or laws forcing people to get married if they produce a child. Besides, this concern for kids, to some extent, is a charade. Many opponents of gay marriage would be against it even if gay couples signed a pledge, punishable by death, not to have kids.
Reasonable people may disagree on the issue of gay marriage. Not all critics of same sex marriage are bigots, that’s for sure. And for same sex marriage proponents to throw the word around loosely is unfair. But let’s not pretend that many opponents are not bigots. Many opponents just don’t like gays. The saddest part is that many of them like to think of themselves as good, religious people.
When we look back, we will see what history has written on this subject. And I’m betting that history is on the side of gay marriage. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: ask anyone younger than you how he or she feels about the subject. They’re the future, after all.