by: Riley Thomas
Until several weeks ago, Republican Senator Rob Portman opposed same-sex marriage. After he publically revealed his change of heart, there has been a backlash from the gay community. Many believe he only did it because his son Will is gay. Many are questioning his ability to empathize with Americans and thereby function as a senator. I am of a different mind.
Don’t hate Rob Portman. He’s your dad, your uncle, your boss, your neighbor. But we’ll get to that.
This is a wonderful thing – a conservative Republican senator from Ohio has publically changed his view on same-sex marriage – that’s epic! I understand why some would accuse him of lack of empathy. If he can’t understand a situation without being directly affected by it that could potentially call into question his ability to be a leader. But it’s quite possible that without his direct connection to the gay community, he could have continued to ignore the situation altogether, which was most likely what he had been doing all along. He had no reason to oppose the GOP’s platform until confronted with the reality of how the situation affected someone he loved. After careful consideration, he switched his view. He changed his mind. He’s going up against his own party. His decision might even make other Republicans reexamine their own beliefs, especially if they were on the fence or just too fearful to speak up.
Changing your mind after experiencing how a situation affects a loved one is not weakness, that’s strength. And realistically, that’s how the world works. How many of us can claim to understand the struggles of a veteran until we have one in our family? How many of us can understand the devastating effects of cancer, or alcoholism, or religious persecution unless someone we know and love suffers from it? I understand that we expect more from our governmental representatives – as we should – but at the end of the day they are still human. Portman has shown that he has evolved and that’s to his credit.
From a CNN poll in 2007, only 40% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, and only 45% of Americans claimed to have a family member or close friend who was gay. From the same poll in 2013, same-sex marriage support jumped to 53%, and 57% claim a gay friend or family member. Is it just coincidence that both percentages went up by about 12 points?
“The Portman Effect” should open our eyes to an opportunity. This is how each and every one of us can fight for equality on a daily basis. We need to come out. We need to be open for everyone around us. We need to show America that homosexuality is nothing to fear. We need to open the minds of our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, teachers, friends, coworkers. We can help people change their minds simply by existing with them, and that’s an invaluable tool. Most importantly, we need to teach the next generation to celebrate diversity so that in twenty years these kinds of problems won’t even exist anymore.
Some people care why Rob Portman changed his mind. I think we should just be thankful he did. What a beautiful precedent he is setting for the rest of our leaders.