When I heard that Republican Senator Rob Portman had recently changed his position on marriage equality - only after his son came out as gay - I had a visceral reaction: Fuck Rob Portman. But then I thought about it, and now I take it back.
Is it tempting, maybe even justified, to point the finger at Rob Portman? Yes. Damn right. Here's a guy who seemed to have no problem supporting an agenda that discriminates generally, and against LGBT individuals specifically, until someone who was about as close to him as any person could be was effected by that very agenda. Now he wants to change the rules. Bullshit! There's absolutely no genuine empathy there, at least not for the other approximately 11,699,999 LGBT in the United States.
Is that really the point though? No. It's not. The point is that there is now one less very powerful voice supporting discrimination against LGBT, and there is now one more very powerful voice supporting equality for LGBT. And. That. Is. Really. Awesome. Heck, I'm sure I'm going to continue to not like him very much. But that doesn't really matter right now because on the issue of LGBT equality he ended up in the right place.
Truth be told, a lot of progress gets done the same way. Of course I can't prove it, but it's my guess that most of people in this country who now support same-sex marriage didn't really think hard about the issue until they realized that they knew someone who was LGBT and saw how the discrimination affected him or her. That's just how it happens. Would it be better if people were more empathetic to the concerns of all their fellow citizens? Yeah, it would, and I'd like a pony for my next birthday too. Most people just don't think that way.
Should Rob Portman get support from Progressives for his decision to support same-sex marriage? EMPHATICALLY YES. Look at the definition of the word progress:
1. Movement, as toward a goal; advance. 2. Development or growth: students who show progress. 3. Steady improvement, as of a society or civilization: a believer in human progress.Movement, advance, development, growth, improvement... it's not light switch. We can't just turn progress on and off. It's steady improvement. One step at a time. And we need to encourage people to take those steps for the better. We can't hold their feet to the fire for once holding a contrary position. Because if we create a hostile environment for those who take steps to improve, we're disincentivizing them to change. On the other hand, if we create a receptive environment for those who take steps toward improvement, we're speeding up progress by making it easier for people to change. It's just that simple. You have to fight the temptation to be overly cynical. Give Rob Portman a hug and say thanks, if only for this one step in the right direction.
Maybe, just maybe, he'll be an influential voice for his colleagues.