Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fairly Meaningless

Rob Portman has done a Dick Cheney, who in June 2009 declared "As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish."

For the right-wing extremist former vice-president, same-sex marriage is just fine because his daughter Mary is a lesbian.  Similarly, as the Ohio Republican told CNN

I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about. And it has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and the stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son who is gay.

Portman, who had co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act and in 2004 voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, stated that two years ago his 21-year-old son Will came to the Senator and his wife and told them he is gay.  On Thursday, he broke the news to Ohio reporters in his office, telling them "It allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective and that’s as a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have."  He reiterated this in a column appearing Friday in the Columbus Dispatch, in which he wrote "knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective," in contrast to his "faith tradition."

Steve Benen comments

To be sure, I'm genuinely glad Portman has done the right thing, and can only hope it encourages other Republicans to do the same. What I find discouraging, though, is that the Republican senator was content to support discriminatory policies until they affected someone he personally cares about. What about everyone else's sons and daughters? Why must empathy among conservatives be tied so directly to their own personal interactions?

We've seen this a few too many times. A Republican will support Medicaid cuts right up until he sees the program up close, with his own eyes. Republicans will be skeptical about federal disaster relief right up until it's their community that sees devastation. Republicans are prepared to deny basic rights based on sexual orientation, right up until it's their loved one who's gay.

It seems the key to American social progress in the 21st century is simple: more conservatives having more life experiences.

Indeed, I'd be glad to introduce Republican lawmakers to more Americans who are poor, in the hopes they'll stop trying to cut health care programs; students, in the hopes they'll stop opposing education investments; women, in the hopes they'll stop opposing women's health care; and African Americans, in the hopes that they'll stop supporting voter-suppression tactics.

Or perhaps a woman in his life- Portman seems to respond only to what affects him directly- should introduce the Senator to a woman who has had an abortion, in hopes that would open to him "a new perspective."

Or perhaps not.   Iris Carmon at Salon explains

Abortion and access to contraception often get lumped with marriage equality as “social issues,” but there are reasons why they’ve played out differently. Take Portman’s own reasoning in his Op-Ed this morning: “We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.” In other words, gay and lesbian people are joining what Portman considers to be, and has historically been, a conservative institution — much like the military, where they’d already been serving in secret.

Although family planning used to be considered a conservative issue, there is still something more radical and terrifying about a woman not wanting to be a mother, or wanting to be a mother on her own terms. There will always be people who consider it the same as murder of a fully developed person in the world. There is still far more empathy for an embryo or fetus than for the living woman.

The bankroller of Rick Santorum's presidential campaign reflects the shifting GOP perspective.  On Thursday, Foster Friess had urged his Party to "rally behind the gay community to make sure (world travel) is safe for them."  Though without reference to the interview with Buzzfeed in which he expressed that sentiment, Carmon continues

The issue is also profoundly economic. Friess famously told Andrea Mitchell that he didn’t understand what the fuss was about contraception, since girls could just hold aspirin between their knees. Not all Republicans share Santorum’s opposition to contraception in and of itself, but all of the ones who opposed making it more affordable through private insurance lacked the ability to imagine anyone finding it expensive. One in three women will have an abortion, but either these Republican politicians aren’t being told about the choices of the women in their lives or they compartmentalize them as somehow justified or different. And the women in their lives probably aren’t on Medicaid and are thus unaffected by the Hyde Amendment, and they can probably afford to pay out of pocket if their insurance refuses to cover abortion. Even before Roe, wealthy women had access to abortions, if with some difficulty. In the eyes of these men, it seems, not all women are created equal.

As Benen understands, Portman, Cheney, and other Repubs whom the mainstream media commends as "moderate" depart on same-sex marriage from their conservatism only when it affects them personally. Someone near to them may be gay. And someone near to them may have had an abortion but not disclosed it because of the social stigma attached to the choice.So iIt is unlikely to come to light, and does not force a conservative into a public reassessment- or as Portman puts it, "rethinking."

Additionally, however, abortion is "a profoundly economic issue."  Carol Tracy (as mentioned in an earlier post) has maintained abortion "is absolutely critical to women's participation in the workplace. Roe is the core. It's the basis for all other women's rights. If you can't control your reproductive health, you can't fully participate in society." Consequently, it's understandable that conservatives would be terrified at the thought of extending to women reproductive freedom, which presents a threat to the economic order missing in same-sex marriage.

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