There are two stories recently out about two fathers and their gay sons. The first is simply inspiring and beautiful as it represents a reaction that continues to grow increasingly common.
A father overhead his teenage son on the phone with his boyfriend discussing his plan to come out to his parents the next day. After hearing the conversation, the father left this note for his son:It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity. A statement of love and that there was no need for a plan or a conversation, just a continuation of day-to-day life. A quick and honest complete acceptance.
The other story of a father has received far more complicated reactions, and I find that interesting. Ohio Senator Rob Portman became the first sitting Republican senator to come out in support of gay marriage in an op-ed piece in the Columbus Dispatch you can read here as a result of his son coming out two years ago.
He explained in detail that he has voted against marriage equality and supported DOMA as well, but this revelation in his family caused him to look deeper at the issue and the impact of his opinions and votes. He discussed the root of his opinions in his religious beliefs, and then supported his change on the subject by rooting it in the conservative belief in limited government and individual freedom.
Many marriage equality advocates have mused that it should not take a personal experience to govern correctly, but I think this belies the bravery of what Rob Portman has done to bring his public policy positions in line with his personal desire to demonstrate to his son his belief that he deserves the same equality that his siblings do.
I don’t think the importance of this can be overstated. In recent weeks many former Republican officials have come out in support of marriage equality, and this is amazing for a show of bipartisan support representing the turning of the tide in popular opinion. However, there is considerable silence from sitting elected Republican officials – no governors, two members of the House, and now Senator Portman as the first senator are publicly in support of marriage equality. It demonstrates that within the active party working with an eye toward elections, there is still a great fear that this is a losing position for their re-election.
Senator Portman stepping out as the first in the senate makes him a target. Depending on the Supreme Court decisions, and possibly even more so if they come down in favor of marriage equality, he is likely to face considerable push-back from his conservative base, or conservative organizations and fundraisers, for this decision. Yes, it is the expectation that leaders do what is right both legally and morally, but to ignore the reality that they cannot govern at all if they are not re-elected is to ignore a major factor in the positions they take while representing their constituents. Portman undoubtedly has gained conservative enemies for this reversal of his voting history and position, and he will have to work that much harder to stay in office. Good, you might say, doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Of course it isn’t, but being one of the first to do the right thing is doubly hard and should be applauded.
After all, it seems to me that Senator Portman’s real statement was, “I love my son so much that I am willing to put my political career on the line for him.” I’m sure he’s hoping that the tidal wave will tip and by the time he is running for re-election it won’t matter, but he still walked out on a limb for his son with no guarantee that it won’t crack beneath him. And maybe, just maybe, he’s opening the door a little further for other active conservative lawmakers to follow him through to the right side of history, giving his son another reason to be proud.
Two different fathers – one with a response so simple and seemingly obvious, and one on a long and complicated journey – yet both of them clearly making statements to show their sons that they love them, not in spite of an aspect of who they are, but because of all of who they are.