It Gets Better

Senator Rob Portman, prompted to rethink the issue after finding out that his son is gay, has announced that he supports marriage equality:

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.

One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.

Weigel puts this in perspective:

Up to now, a lot of the Republicans making bold strides toward gay marriage were consultants (whose corporate work would benefit from the stance) or retired pols. Portman is one of the acknowledged thought leaders of the congressional party.

Timothy Kincaid thinks Portman’s change of heart “is a bit risky”:

Ohio Republicans are a different breed from the New Hampshire strain. But I’m going to hazard a guess that this wont much hurt Portman. It might even help him.

For my part, I’m thrilled by his acknowledgment of the equal humanity and citizenship of his own son. We hear a lot about “family values” from the GOP, but we rarely see them in action as clearly as we do in Portman’s reversal. And the clarity of his essentially conservative argument for marriage equality – the same one I made two and a half decades ago – has to resonate. No conservative not in thrall to religious fundamentalism can regard this reform as somehow anti-family. It is pro-family; it is socially integrative; it heals wounds, rather than opening them; it helps create more marriages that act as a critical civil society that keeps government at bay. Now I have a husband, I have a First Responder to all the crises of life. I have less need of government help, if I have a spouse’s help first.

Some will wonder why Republicans only seem to get this question when they have a gay member of their family.

And you can indeed argue that conservatives tend to embrace social justice only when they are directly affected. I’d prefer to look at it the other way round. These Republicans, unlike some others, have actually confronted the issue face to face – and the good ones immediately become some of the strongest supporters of marriage equality. Once they see us as them, they realize the hurt and pain and cruelty of ostracizing from civil society core members of that society and full members of their own families. Ask yourself: how many out gay Republicans actually oppose marriage equality? Almost none that I know of. When a community’s entire right wing and entire left wing back a reform, when their families back it, it becomes not a matter of left and right. It’s really a matter of right and wrong.

Sometimes, reforms threaten conservatives, as they should. Conservatism, properly understood, remains an important restraint on our utopian impulses or our certainty about anything. It asks us of to consider unforeseen consequences of reform, to consider carefully the pluses and minuses, to prefer federalism to sudden, national decisions. As this process has taken place, even as religious fundamentalism has swept the GOP, those capable of adjustment, those who understand that to preserve the vitality of a social institution, you sometimes have to change it a little: they are coming around.