Gladd you're my son!

I guess I should be thrilled that a conservative Republican legislator has decided to endorse gay marriage. It's not a very common occurrence, after all. But I am not overjoyed.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a gay son. And he no longer feels it right to prevent his son from experiencing the love and joy that heterosexual couples do in their marriages.

"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 stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay," said Portman.
Good for Senator Portman, who is belatedly coming to the same conclusions that many of the rest of us have already reached. That gay people are not dangerous -- to themselves or to others -- and have the same feelings, longings and needs as the rest of us.

My reservation about Portman's conversion is that it took a personal, family situation for him to be able to open his eyes to the gay marriage issue. On one hand, I applaud his courage. There are still many conservatives who take a hard line on gay marriage. Bucking that trend will bring him a measure of suffering. But on the other hand, will progress on this issue really occur one gay child at a time? Do we have to wait until more of our senators and congressmen deal personally with the gayness of a close member of their family before we can move gay marriage past the talking stage?

I should not be too hard on Portman. I have my own history of obtuseness about this and other hot button issues. When gay marriage first started to become a possibility in Massachusetts in 2004, I was in the middle of a masters program in Catholic theology. I hesitated about giving the idea my wholehearted support because a) to a small extent, I thought it might harm my chances of leadership in the Church and b) because I wanted to explore the Church's perspective on the subject. It was only when my teenaged kids gave me an "are you kidding?" reaction that I broke down and accepted that gay marriage was real and was good.

But there is a part of me that still wonders about the inability of many of us to empathize. It seems very easy for us to dismiss the realities that others live in. We demean the poor without understanding what it might be like to need to take many buses to get to a low-paying job. We dismiss the realities of being a person of color trying to get a simple housing loan. We (men) can't imagine what it might feel like to be a woman, constantly on the alert against sexual assault. We can't put ourselves in the shoes of a mom and dad whose 6-year-old was gunned down by a man who should not have been driving a car, much less peering through a rifle scope.

Bravo, Senator Portman, for making the loving call to accept your son's sexuality. You could easily have kicked the kid out of your home, as many have done before you. But let's all try to bring about a world in which hearts are open and soft to the experiences of others. Where we can walk in another's shoes in our imaginations and souls, not just when those shoes are thrust upon our feet.