Last week, Senator Rob Portman announced that he now supports gay marriage. He said the impetus for this was when his son came out to him. According to him, it opened his eyes on the issue and he now believes that gays should have full marital rights. Portman has been criticized a bit from the Right but also from the Left. One of Sullivan’s readers claims that his switch shows a lack of empathy because he didn’t sympathize with gay people until he knew one. Sullivan (and I) disagree. These are difficult moral and legal issues. People’s feelings about them are complex. Sometimes something like your son coming out can make you re-examine your beliefs.
Today, Hillary Clinton came out in favor of gay marriage. And, by contrast, the Left are praising her conversion. Dan Savage:
And Hillary backed marriage equality today because it’s the right thing to do for all kids, not just for her kid.
Hillary, like Obama, has always supported gay marriage or at least supported it for a very long time. Her announcement today was not because she did some soul searching. It was not because she wanted to take a bold political stance. It happened because she put her finger to the wind, realized things had changed and “came out” to what she has believed for a long time. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that this announcement came on the same day a new poll showed majority support for gay marriage?
That’s better than what Rob Portman did? Let’s think about this. For many years, Hillary has thrown her political allies, her personal friends and her supporters under the bus in order to run for office because she knew that supporting gay marriage was a political liability. She believed in gay marriage. She could have led the push. But instead, like her President, she cowered behind the polls (Bill Clinton has also tacked to the Left on this, penning an op-ed in opposition to the DOMA law he signed).
That’s “the right thing to do for all kids”? The cold political calculus that the Democrats engaged in for years is superior to Rob Portman expressing his honest opinion on the matter and the honest reasons why his opinion changed? Look, I know the politicians sometimes have to take views they oppose for political reasons. But let’s not pretend it’s anything but cynical.
Keep something in mind while you weigh this: coming out in favor of gay marriage is much more politically risky for Portman than it is for Clinton or Obama. In fact, it isn’t risky for Obama and Clinton at all: it’s required if they want to maintain support in the Democratic Party, where support for gay marriage is now a whopping 72%. Republican support for gay marriage is 34%. Portman is hurting himself by changing his opinion. Clinton isn’t. Portman is, in fact, showing the kind of political courage that Clinton and Obama never could. He could no longer look his kid in the eye and oppose gay marriage. For years, Clinton and Obama looked everyone’s kid in the eye and opposed gay marriage.
Alex touched on this in his post and it’s a point constantly worth repeating: Obama (and Clinton) are held to a much lower standard than everyone else. Rob Portman has taken on a big political risk because a family member made him rethink his position on a touchy issue. Obama and Clinton have stopped throwing their own supporters under the bus because they can now safely say what they thought all the time. Which of these is political courage and which of these is political cowardice? It’s pretty clear to me. But then I’m not afflicted with Obama Worship Syndrome.
Or the early stages of Clinton Worship Syndrome.