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Portmanteaus for Portman (with comment by Paul)

Surely some portmanteau word — here is a good list — can capture the appropriate reaction to Senator Rob Portman’s Columbia Dispatch column “coming out” in favor of gay marriage. Smog? Turducken?

Senator Portman is in my view a serious man and a model Senator. He has a great contribution to make to our public life. In a body full of blowhards, Senator Portman stands out as someone who distinguishes himself by his knowledge of the subjects he addresses. Long may he run.

Senator Portman’s column in support of gay marriage seems to me to fall somewhat below the standard of seriousness that he himself has set on other issues of public policy. In advocating for gay marriage, Senator Portman explains:

Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.

There are several assumptions packed into this paragraph, such as the implicit argument based on “orientation.” Does “orientation” matter? Among those whose orientation is more flexible — the bicurious, say, to invoke another portmanteau — is the argument inapplicable?

If his son’s “coming out” has led Senator Portman to rethink his previous support of traditional marriage, he must not have thought too deeply about it. He professes, however, “to have thought a great deal about the issue.”

One wonders if Senator Portman is saying he did a lot of thinking about the issue before his son “came out,” or just after. If he is saying he thought a lot about it before, his column provides no evidence of it.

Isn’t the possibility of our children’s homosexuality a question we all pose to ourselves in testing our thinking on this issue? Senator Portman doesn’t say whether he had gone through the exercise prior to Will’s “coming out,” or how he erred if he did so. He implies that he did not:

At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

Now a conservative who cites his “faith tradition” seems to me a fellow who has fallen victim to Stockholm Syndrome. Is it rude to wonder whether he takes the tenets of his faith to be true? Probably. Senator Portman has to raise them to a level of New Age generality to continue to profess them:

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

And if we are all children of God, then what? Here the argument such as it is more or less stops. What about the old-school Mormons or Muslims and their devotion to plural marriage? They too were (and are) children of God. They deserve a better-reasoned argument than this, as do we all.

Senator Portman only alludes to the central role of the family in the argument for traditional marriage. He confines his argument to the fulfillment of the two individuals involved. That’s an argument that justifies a lot more than gay marriage, but Senator Portman doesn’t seem to have much interest in testing its limits. Reading a bit further into the column, one gets the impression that Senator Portman is rushing to catch a train that is leaving the station, as it very well may be.

PAUL adds: I saw an interview with Sen. Portman in which I understood him to say he hadn’t thought deeply about the issue of gay marriage before his son’s “coming out.” Portman noted that he’s always been primarily concerned with fiscal and budgetary issues.

As Scott says, Portman has put family concerns ahead of a particular tenet of his religion, and then tried to reconcile his faith and his family concerns by appealing to the former at a very general level.

I don’t blame Portman for this. However, his rethinking of gay marriage is so obviously founded in personal circumstances that it ought not influence the view of the rest of us.

Portman clearly hopes to influence us, though. Otherwise, why announce his new opinion when, to my knowledge, there is no pending Senate vote on the matter?

I assume Portman choose to speak publicly in the interest of family solidarity. Again, I don’t blame him, but believe his view is not entitled to the publicity it has received.

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