Two years ago, when Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) was to speak at the University of Michigan, there was a protest by hundreds of students because of his "openly hostile" record on gay rights. At that time, a spokesman for the senator told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that, "Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman." Among other things, he had voted as a Congressman for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and voted for Defense of Marriage Act as a senator.
That was in 2011. Then, one of his sons came out. That lead to Sen. Portman reversing his position today in several interviews, including the Columbus Dispatch.
"It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have -- to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years."
Additionally, Mr. Portman wrote an op-ed piece for the paper which said, in part -- "I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married,"
I think it's pretty admirable when anyone makes a reversal of a major, emotional issue that they had previously been vociferously against. It's all the more admirable when they do it publicly. And it's more-so still when the person is a U.S. Senator and risks putting their career on the line with their political base.
It's very understandable when a person changes their position for personal reasons. When something hits one's own family, and you see the issue in a way you never had to look at before. That's purely human. But understandable or not, it's still a noteworthy change, whatever the reason.
That said, it would be nice to think that when someone is elected a United States Senator to represent his or her entire state mixed with extensive diversity, that part of the job is actually looking at issues in ways that you never had to before. That you're no longer in a position to simply vote and act on what you personally believe, but have instead taken an oath to represent everyone.
In his remarkable and admirable reversal, Mr. Portman said, "The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue." While I'm not sure if the Bible should come into play for a senator making political decisions, his comments here are clearly heart-felt. What I'm not sure is what in the Bible and Golden Rule has changed in two years that now influences him differently.
To be very clear, I really am not criticizing Sen. Portman for his reversal. I think it is, indeed, admirable -- and a remarkable action for someone who had been so outspoken the other way, as part of a political party where his new stance is out of the mainstream. It's just more a case of wishful thinking, wishing that he had had this perspective on "doing unto others" two years ago and longer. I suspect he wishes that now, as well.
Mainly, though, this wishful thinking is about all politicians. And not just on this one issue, but all issues. That it's one thing to vote your conscience, but it's another thing entirely to act like an elected official and represent all the people in the district you swear to represent. And that you always step back and look at all issues in ways that you never had to before, as if every issue did, in fact, impact you directly, or actually impacts others.
So, again, hat's off to Sen. Portman. May all politicians have the same hats at their disposal.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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