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Defining love

Jack Rooney | Friday, March 22, 2013

Last Friday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman wrote an op-ed, which ran in The Columbus Dispatch, and it has been making news ever since. This particular op-ed, though no longer than this column, marks a profound shift in the debate on same-sex marriage rights in this country. Portman co-sponsored the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and voted for a 1999 measure banning adoption for same-sex couples in Washington, D.C. And with his announcement last Friday, he became the first sitting Republican senator to openly support gay marriage.
It is worth noting that Portman arrived at this reversal of his opinion after his son Will, a junior at Yale University, revealed his gay identity two years ago. Consequently, Portman has been widely criticized by left-wing commentators for his lack of empathy for the LGBT community until the issue directly affected him. While I understand the rationale behind these criticisms, I believe it is better to focus on the progress Portman’s decision signals. Furthermore, I believe the senator ought to be praised for his decision because he did something that is all too undervalued in politics when he changed his mind. We rightly expect our leaders to maintain the courage of their convictions, but we must also recognize that our leaders should continue to ponder their own beliefs in order to best serve the voters, an act that will inevitably lead to some changes of heart and mind.
Senator Portman should also receive praise for standing in the face of overwhelming opposition within his own party. The 2012 Republican Party platform calls “for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Nevertheless, Portman courageously declared, “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.” Thus, it does not matter how Portman reached his decision, it only matters that he has taken the courageous step and placed personal conviction above party.
Portman joins only a handful of Republicans currently in office who support same-sex marriage, and although his recent shift in position may not lead an immediate charge, I still feel same-sex marriage is an inevitability within my lifetime. In his piece in The Columbus Dispatch, Portman noted that “in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” This observation reflects what almost anyone in my generation already recognizes. By the time my fellow Millennials take power in this country, the issue of same-sex marriage will be an afterthought. I say this because, in my experience, it is exceedingly rare to find someone my age who vehemently opposes same-sex marriage, or at the very least civil unions.
Furthermore, the denial of same-sex marriage has correctly been characterized as the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. Marriage is a civil right, and the government cannot deny that right to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or any other attribute. I understand many religions believe marriage to be a sacred bond between one man and one woman, but since when do we allow religion to dictate policy? I too believe marriage is a sacred bond that shows deep love, respect and commitment, but I do not believe the government can restrict who can enter into such a bond.
Now, the opinions I have articulated thus far may seem like idealized leftist rhetoric, but I, as well as Senator Portman, recognize that supporting same-sex marriage is in itself a conservative idea. Portman wrote, “conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives” and therefore, the government has no place to define the love necessary to enter into the sacred bond of marriage. More often than not, however, conservatives place their own “values” (often deriving from the Christian right) above this conservative principle. Such imposition of values applies not only to same-sex marriage, but also to abortion, capital punishment and the role of religion in government as a whole, but I digress.
My point is our generation has been brought up to accept and respect everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or any other possible factors that distinguish others from ourselves. Thus, same-sex marriage will become a social reality sooner or later, most likely sooner. Until then, we must remember and accept that social change comes in painfully small and slow increments, we must continue to fight for equality and all forms of civil rights and, above all else, we must love one another in a way that transcends any tangible definition.

Jack Rooney is a freshman studying political science. He can be contacted at jrooney1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.