Following up on the point I made at the end of my piece about Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) having a change of heart about marriage equality:
I respect Mr. Portman for his forthrightness in saying that it took a personal revelation to get him to change his mind. It’s easy to be against something in the abstract but difficult to turn into a bumper sticker when it touches you: abortion is murder until your 16 year old daughter breaks the news, and God hates gays until your son sits you down and tells you that his roommate isn’t really just a guy who helps with the rent. That’s when reality trumps the talking points.
My only wish is that it didn’t take a personal family experience to learn that.
I am glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks like that, as my commenters pointed out. Here’s Matthew Yglesias on the same subject:
But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.
Senators basically never have poor kids. That’s something members of Congress should think about. Especially members of Congress who know personally that realizing an issue affects their own children changes their thinking.
Let’s take this one step further and say that it shouldn’t require someone to be poor, or gay or disabled to get a measure of understanding from a lawmaker. Or anyone, for that matter. It goes to the basic rules you learn in kindergarten: share, be nice, think of someone else first. If you want to attach a religious theme to it, fine. Or just remember the thing my father used to plead to us kids when we were fighting: Love One Another.