Many have always believed President Obama’s opposition to gay marriage was disingenuous. I stated this belief in a CNN iReport a few years ago as well as implied it in an article on DOMA, an article urging him to support gay marriage, and an article after he “evolved”. The language president Obama used to justify his position was always legalistic and mixed with “religious” inferences he based on his faith; marriage only between a man and a woman. He and his party made sure they never demonized gays and generally supported the tenet of civil unions to ensure they had all rights of marriage if not the name.
That has not been the case with the GOP. They have been generally hostile to any attempt to give gay couples legal rights or marriage. In fact, as recently as the 2012 Republican convention, civil unions were rejected in their platform. Politico reported the attempt to do so as follows:
The Republican platform committee resoundingly rejected an amendment Tuesday that would have endorsed civil unions for gay couples.
The GOP will maintain its official support for a constitutional amendment that would “protect traditional marriage” by defining it as between a man and a woman.
The Democratic National Committee platform has embraced gay marriage, spurred by President Barack Obama’s decision to endorse it earlier in the year.
But here at the Marriott hotel, where Mitt Romney will stay when he accepts his party’s nomination next week, a series of similar amendments were soundly rejected during subcommittee meetings on Monday. Supporters of marriage equality wanted an up-or-down vote before the full body of just over 100 members.
Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Politicians must have the ability to empathize. After all they represent a cross section of a population that share many different experiences, values, and cultures that may be different from their own. They can only serve them all if they can bridge their own prejudices and attempt to live vicariously through those seeking some remedy from their elected officials.
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman’s son came out as gay in 2011. This has led to his evolving from being completely against gay marriage to being a supporter. He states in the Columbus Dispatch op-ed which was reported at ThinkProgress the following.
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.
That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.
Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.
At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.
Portman’s previous stance on marriage equality was termed “openly hostile” by Michigan Law students who protested his commencement speech just two months after his son privately came out. One hundred students reportedly walked out of the speech. In June 2012, he still opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, explaining to ThinkProgress that businesses should be able to fire gay people without fear of legal action.
Everyone has the right to evolve. Everyone has the right to be enlightened. However if said evolution in a politician is based solely on an a personal experience and not a real intellectual awakening, it means that politician lacks the empathy to serve his entire constituency. That defines much of the problem within the Republican Party of today.