Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Thoughts on the marriage equality conversions of Senators Carper and Kirk

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There were two high-profile endorsements of same-sex marriage today from two senators who have "evolved" on the issue:

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware:

As our society has changed and evolved, so too has the public's opinion on gay marriage — and so has mine. I pray every day for God to grant me the wisdom to do what is right. Through my prayers and conversations with my family and countless friends and Delawareans, I've been reminded of the power of one of my core values: the Golden Rule. It calls on us to treat others as we want to be treated. That means, to me, that all Americans ultimately should be free to marry the people they love and intend to share their lives with, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that's why today, after a great deal of soul searching, I'm endorsing marriage equality.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois:

When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others," Kirk wrote on his blog.

Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back -- government has no place in the middle.

Okay, my thoughts:

1) Great. Wonderful. Fantastic. Public opinion has been shifting rapidly in support of marriage equality, but it still needs all the help it can get, including from those on Capitol Hill.

2) I realize that "evolve" is the word being used by politicians to explain what might otherwise be seen as a Romney-style flip-flop, but, really, it's not so much evolution as it is (often belated) reaction to shifting public opinion. Which is to say, it's "safe" now to come out in support of same-sex marriage, and indeed politically dangerous in many cases not to, so politicians are doing just that. This is not to say that people can't grow, and can't change their minds, but in many cases all this just smacks of political convenience as opposed to sincere conviction. And, yes, that goes for President Obama as well. (And, yes, I get political convenience. Politicians need votes and so much paner to public opinion. I'm just saying.)

3) Really, Sen. Carper, you're only now seeing how the Golden Rule may apply here? Did you just forget about it before when thinking about gay rights? And why did it take so much "soul searching" to reach this point? Did you really need to search your soul to decide not to be a bigot?

4) Fifty senators now support marriage equality, and that number will likely rise. With Vice President Biden, that's a working majority. But this still puts the Senate well behind public opinion. Just in case you forgot that this august body is a deeply conservative institution.

5) But let's break that number down. Along with Biden, the majority is made up of 48 Democrats but just two Republicans -- Kirk and Rob "my son is gay, so it matters to me now, so I guess I'm for it" Portman). Let me repeat that: just two Republicans. Now, there will be more to come in the not-too-distant future, I suspect, like Lisa Murkowski, but still. Just two. Just in case you forgot that the GOP, with its radical right-wing ideology, is way out of touch with the American people. Then why does it still win so many seats in both the House and Senate? Because of the regional biases that give smaller states and rural areas disproportionate influence in Washington (e.g., two Senate seats for Oklahoma but only two for California as well, as for all states regardless of population).

6) Let's not forget that Kirk represents a solidly Democratic state. It was fairly safe for him to evolve to his new position. And for Portman it was purely selfish, as it affects his gay son, though even Ohio is fairly safe for same-sex marriage now. From most other Republicans, including the vast majority of them from solidly Republican states, it's bigotry as usual.

So, sure, I'll give Carper and Kirk a couple of cheers for this. Good for them, and, in general, good for the cause. But let's not credit them with courage and conviction they don't deserve.

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  • I know I can sound pretty cynical at times. But Portman knew his son was gay before he was on the short list for veep.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:31 AM  

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