Republican senator Rob Portman recently caught the attention of the media with his coming out in support of same-sex marriage. Given his conservative credentials, this has stirred up discussion of the matter.
While I am generally not in favor of marriage, my view has been that consenting adults should be able to engage in that legal contract. If arguments are wanting, see my For Better or Worse Reasoning. As such, I agree with Portman’s new view.
While Portman is well known as a conservative, his social conservatism seems to have been almost a matter of rote. That is, he consistently voted for or against laws in a way consistent with the stock social conservative positions but he was not particularly active in regards to expressing views. His main focus has been on fiscal conservatism rather than social conservatism.
As I have noted in earlier posts, the Republican party faces the challenge of having (crudely put) two main divisions: the social conservatives (which is exemplified by the religious right) and the fiscal/political conservatives. While politician in the party generally have had to appeal to both views, these views are clearly distinct. After all, it is one thing to hold to be opposed to same-sex marriage and quite another to be opposed to big government. In fact, there can be clear conflicts between the views of the political conservatives (most notably the libertarians) and the social conservatives. After all, someone who does not want big government acting as a nanny state should be against having the state intrude into marriage with a ban on same-sex marriage.
In regards to why Portman changed his views and came out in favor of same-sex marriage, his answer is that it is because one of his son’s is gay. Portman claims that he wants his son to have the same right as him in regards to marriage. Some who are more cynical than I might point out that Portman learned his son was gay a few years ago and note that this change coincides with the need for the Republican party to gain a broader appeal. However, I will accept his claim, namely that he had to work through his view of the matter.
One of the most interesting aspects of the matter is that Portman seems to have been influenced by the family effect, an effect that struck Dick Cheney. The idea is that people sometimes change their views on same-sex marriage when they learn that someone they love (in Cheney’s case, his daughter) is gay. It is one thing to hold a stance on a matter when those it impacts are strangers. It is quite another when it impacts one’s own family. It is also one thing to hold a view about a group when the group is composed of people one does not know. So, for example, it is easier to attribute all sorts of moral defects to gay folks when one does not really know a gay person well. However, when a loving parent finds out that his son or daughter is gay, this makes it much harder to gay people as being morally defective simply because they happen to be gay. This is not to say that being gay makes a person good. Rather, being gay is just like being straight: it does not make a person morally good or bad.