It's been about fifteen years ago now that I learned that my brother is gay. At the time, I still had fairly conservative views about homosexuality. Although I opposed discrimination against gays and lesbians in the public sphere, I believed that as far as the church went -- while we should welcome them into the church, they shouldn't be ordained, hold leadership positions, or be married. When my brother came out, I had to wrestle with my own views on this subject. As I've said before, I had to figure out how my view of scripture and my understanding of God fit with this new reality. What was once an academic question was now very personal. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I needed to look at the few verses that applied through the lens of Jesus' message of love and inclusion. I've been a quiet advocate for the inclusion since that point. I've not been on the front lines, but I've tried to be a constant witness of God's welcome.
I saw a lot of myself in Sen. Rob Portman's beautifully written commentary published today in the Columbus Dispatch. Rob Portman is a leading figure within the Republican Party. He was on the short list of VP possibilities. Many thought that had he been chosen, Mitt Romney would be President. I don't know if this would have been true, but the point is, he is an important political figure. In this column he reveals that his son is gay, and that this revelation has led him to reconsider his position on homosexuality and gay marriage. He notes how he and his wife have had to make sense of this family reality and the teachings of their church. In the end, like me, he concluded that "it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God." I couldn't put it any better than that.
While he (and I would agree) believes that the government shouldn't force religious communities to perform weddings for gays -- this is an issue of religious freedom -- the government shouldn't interfere with one's choice in marriage partner. He approaches this question from a conservative perspective, where individual freedoms should be respected.
One of the rationales offered by opponents of gay marriage, is that by allowing gays and lesbians to marry, this will undermine the institution of marriage. But Portman responds by suggesting that not only doesn't gay marriage undermine the institution, it could actually benefit the institution.
We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.
One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn't amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.
I'm no longer a conservative. I'm left of center, but I affirm his conservative principle at this point. By granting gays and lesbians the right to marry, our society can strengthen family bonds. We can affirm and support the building of strong families. We are at a tipping point in our society. A small majority in some polls support gay marriage, and the younger you are the more likely you are to support giving full rights to gays and lesbians. It's time to end the discriminatory practices encouraged by the Defense of Marriage Act, a congressional act signed by Bill Clinton, that the former President rues having signed, and which the current President believes is unconstitutional, a view with which Sen. Portman now concurs.
Thus, he has concluded:
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.
The Supreme Court will have an opportunity to rule on at least some of this soon. That ruling will have an affect on the lives of many Americans, including members of my own congregation and my family. As the Senator notes, were all at different places in this journey, but at least we can rethink this question, recognizing the human element in it. Portman suggests that this change occur through a democratic process, state by state, rather than through judicial intervention. I'm more open to judicial intervention but either way, the time has come for change -- for the good of our families.
Right now, in the state of Michigan, a judicial decision on adoption by gay couples is pending the Supreme Court decision. Currently, gays and lesbians can adopt as individuals, but not as couples. So if, for instance, the adoptive parent dies, the partner has no rights to custody. This seems anti-family to me. See there are important human issues at stake. And from a faith perspective, I believe that God desires that we show love for one another, and that this love requires us to evolve on this issue.
I want to commend Sen. Portman for his courage. I hope and pray that by his coming out with this statement he will enable others to do the same. Whether or not we have a family member who is affected, we all know someone who is affected. We needn't wait for someone close to us to come out to make the change. We can do so, because it is the right thing to do. I must say that his statement is encouragement to me to be bolder in my own statements and actions.