The Corner

Let’s Talk About Marriage

One’s heart goes out to any young man or woman whose most private struggles become a matter of public conversation. Will Portman had to go through months of wondering whether he’d become a presidential-campaign issue.

Honesty is something for which we should be grateful, and it sure seems to be what he is aiming for. We should follow suit in discussing marriage as a public good. I thought there was something beautiful here, from his op-ed:

We’re all the products of our backgrounds and environments, and the issue of marriage for same-sex couples is a complicated nexus of love, identity, politics, ideology and religious beliefs. We should think twice before using terms like “bigoted” to describe the position of those opposed to same-sex marriage or “immoral” to describe the position of those in favor, and always strive to cultivate humility in ourselves as we listen to others’ perspectives and share our own.

A public-policy debate about marriage in America should never be about silencing or attacking or judging or lecturing. It should be about the reality of law and civil society and the common good. That starts with asking some basic questions we don’t seem to all have the same answer to — like, what is marriage? The Heritage Foundation has been doing an excellent job trying to help get us talking about those kinds of questions.

And it’s also worth pointing out where Rob Portman is on marriage as a public-square matter: He’s not looking for the Supreme Court to pull a Roe, so to speak. The under-quoted part of his op-ed last week included this:

The process of citizens persuading fellow citizens is how consensus is built and enduring change is forged. That’s why I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.

The arguments being heard this week before the Supreme Court could be the beginning of a civil conversation that includes the most basic definition of terms. Right now, every debate and headline is weighed down by that “complicated nexus of love, identity, politics, ideology and religious beliefs,” as Will Portman put it. We could use some clarity — and that means, in part, not piling on with heated rhetoric that hurts people trying to make their way through that nexus in their own lives. 


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