Republican stalwarts responded with the same tone-deaf rhetoric that led them to landslide defeat after landslide defeat during the 2012 presidential election. Phyllis Schlafly, for example, lambasted Portman for changing his opinion solely on the basis of knowing someone who’s gay — someone who happens to be his son:
I think it’s really a dumb way to create legislation and my guess is that the Ohio voters will take care of that in the next election; I think they won’t respond to that type of an argument. They’ll feel sorry for him, maybe he was pressured by his son to do this, but I think the legislators should stand up for what the majority of people want and not decided based on personal experience.
(Totally. I mean, why should personal experience have any influence on the way you treat other people or the way you do your job?)
Portman didn’t have it any easier with Democrats or the LGBT community, who ridiculed his flip-flop. Once one of America’s most fiercely homophobic elected officials, Portman often voted in favor of laws to restrict the rights of gays. “So, it was fine for him to oppose LGBT rights before now because he didn’t know any gay people”, the critics complained, “but since his son’s come out, now he feels it’s important to offer protection? What about all the other LGBT Americans who faced discrimination in the interim, who didn’t have a father on Capitol Hill to fight for them?”
Not an easy argument to dismiss.
Here’s the thing: humans like to believe that we’re immutable. We like to think that our opinions and personalities don’t change over time, that they don’t change from setting to setting.
What a bunch of crap. We do nothing but change. We evolve: biologically, philosophically, socially, and otherwise. If we didn’t, I’d still think that C.S. Lewis was the most fabulous writer on Planet Earth and that I could make myself like girls. (I no longer believe either.)
We poke fun at those who evolve in the public eye. We’ve taken President Obama to task for his evolution on marriage equality. And we’ve certainly raked Bill Clinton over the coals for it, since he was the man in charge when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act became law.
But now that we have some high-profile examples of evolution, everyone can join the party. And no one’s happier about that than Republicans.
Let me explain what I mean: consider for a moment the Palestinians and the Israelis. Apart from deranged, die-hard extremists, both groups understand that a two-state solution is the only thing that will calm tensions in the Middle East. And yet they’re still fighting, because neither side wants to be labeled a loser. Because neither side wants to be seen as a quitter. Because no one has figured out a way for both sides to save face.
When it comes to LGBT rights, though, “evolution” offers a simple, easy way for politicians to change directions, get with the program, and save face. This week, it was Senator Portman, but others will follow the path he’s blazed. And eventually, we’ll reach a tipping point, leaving only whackjobs like Tony Perkins and Ms. Schlafly standing in schoolhouse doors, proclaiming that they’ll never, ever give up the fight.
And then they’ll die.
Michaelangelo Signorile hopes that two upcoming Supreme Court cases will make LGBT rights a non-issue and force Republicans to get onboard. I do too (even though I’m a lifelong Democrat), but just in case, it’s nice to know that the Republicans have a Plan B.