Last week, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio announced that he had reversed his position on same-sex marriage. The reason was that his son had come out to the senator and his wife as gay.
This is not the first such instance. Periodically, we hear about Republican politicians whose child has announced that he or she is gay, prompting the parent to change his mind about the man-woman definition of marriage.
As a parent, I understand these parents. We love our children, and we want them to love us.
Nevertheless, I differ with their decisions to support the redefinition of marriage.
In order to explain why, let’s analyze some of Senator Portman’s words: “I’m announcing today a change of heart . . .”
These words were well chosen. Senator Portman’s new position is indeed “a change of heart.” That’s why he didn’t say “change of mind.” His change comes from his heart.
In this regard, Mr. Portman speaks for virtually every progressive/left/liberal position on virtually every subject. To understand leftism — not that the senator has become a leftist, but he has taken the left-wing position on redefining marriage — one must understand that above all else leftism is rooted in emotion, not reason. That is why left-wingers discussing their social positions always refer to compassion and fairness — for blacks, for illegal immigrants, for poor people, and, of course, for gays. Whether a progressive position will improve or harm society is not a progressive question. That is a conservative question. What matters to progressives is whether a position emanates from compassion.
Progressives do not seem to recognize that in life there is always tension between standards and compassion. Standards, by definition, cannot allow for compassion for every individual. If society were to show compassion for every individual, it would have no standards. Speeding laws are not waived for the unfortunate soul who has to catch an important flight. Orchestral standards are not waived for the musician who has devoted his or her life to studying an instrument, is a wonderful person, and needs the job to support a family.
Either it is right to maintain the man-woman definition of our most important social institution, or it is not. We cannot base our decision on compassion for gays, whether the gay is our child, our sibling, our friend, or anyone else.
Yes, societies have changed qualifications for marriage regarding age and number, but no society before the 21st century ever considered redefining the fundamental nature of marriage by changing the sexes. That is why it is not honest to argue that same-sex marriage is just another redefinition. It is the most radical change in the definition of marriage in the history of civilization.
How then should people of compassion deal with this, or any other, issue? By asking whether we maintain standards or whether we change them because of compassion. Do we change universities’ academic standards out of compassion for blacks and their history of persecution, or do we maintain college admissions standards? Do we change military standards in order to enable women to enter fighting units, or do we ask only what is the best policy to maintain military excellence?
The only answer that works — and no answer is perfect in this imperfect world — is to maintain standards in the macro and show compassion in the micro.
Every parent owes the same love and support to a gay child as to a straight child. In fact, all of us, parents or not, owe the same respect to gays as individuals as we do to heterosexuals as individuals. That does not mean, however, that marriage needs to be redefined. It does not mean that, other things being equal, it is not best for a child to have a male and a female parent.
Compassion was the reason Senator Portman raised another issue. “My son,” he said, “told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice.”
This raises an obvious question: Prior to his son’s telling him that he did not choose to find men sexually attractive, did Senator Portman believe that gay men did choose to find men rather than women sexually attractive? Unlikely.
So why did he raise this point? Because the “gays have no choice” assertion tugs at people’s hearts. Once again, compassion for the individual is supposed to trump all other considerations.
Finally, the senator also said: “During my career in the House and also the last few years in the Senate, I’ve taken a position against gay marriage rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition.” But he has been “rethinking my position, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders.”
It would be interesting to find out what exactly his Christian pastor said to him. Did the pastor tell him that Christianity looks favorably on man-man marriage? Or that God made men and women essentially interchangeable? If so, why didn’t the pastor tell this to the senator the whole time the senator opposed same-sex marriage?
A final note to parents of gays: Parents who believe in the man-woman definition of marriage do not owe it to their gay child to support the same-sex redefinition of marriage — any more than gay children owe it to these parents to oppose same-sex marriage. Parents and children owe each other love and respect, not abandonment of convictions.
— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.