Monday, March 18, 2013

If Senator Rob will do just one more thing, I'll be happy to upgrade him from a "no-guts" to a "low-guts" nonentity


Looking at this picture, can you tell which of these guys is gay and which is straight? Me either. But I bet you can tell that they look like a pair of yutzes. (Don't you have to credit Senator Rob with guts in allowing his office to circulate this photo?)

by Ken

For once Jay Leno, who does politics worse than just about anything, seems to have gotten it right, quipping Friday that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman "doesn't care who his son marries -- as long as it's not a Democrat."

If everyone promises not to tell the senator, I will admit that my opinion of him has already been upgraded. I don't want him to know yet, though, because I want to attach a condition to any official announcement, about which more in a moment.

Of course it's also true that the opinion upgrade was greatly facilitated by the exceedingly low opinion I started with. I think of Senator Rob as a no-account cookie-cutter-type Midwest right-wing nonentity of the non-ultra but safely orthdox no-guts variety. And now it turns out he's not "no-guts," but rather "low-guts." And I'm prepared to put this tribute on the record as soon as he satisfies one condition, which again we'll get to in a moment.


like maybe the CCRAP convention: Senator Rob vaulted into the headlines by announcing that he now supports the right to same-sex marriage, as a result of discovering two years ago that his son Will is gay. Howie made a point the other day of wondering how it could have taken him two years to arrive at his raised consciousness, but maybe he hadn't seen the above picture. There aren't a lot of signs there of any kind of consciousness.

As I've said before, you'd have a hard time finding anyone more surprised than yours truly at the astoundingly rapid change -- in the grand scheme of things -- in America's attitudes toward its LGBT citizens. How fast it happened is a fascinating subject, and I suspect has to do with many supposedly "deeply ingrained" attitudes not being as deeply ingrained as we thought, just subject to constantly hammered reinforcement. But how it happened has never seemed mysterious to me: Rather obviously, people have become increasingly aware that they know LGBT people -- maybe even that they know lots of them --- and that there really isn't much of anything else different about them from the regular kind.

I'm not sure that people have made the connection yet that they've always known Ls, Gs,Bs, and Ts, that the only difference, really, is that now they know it. This may be too disorienting, however, and for a country that views history with deep suspicion anyway, and probably considers it as bogus as climate change, it really doesn't matter.

What matters is that more and more non-LGBT people have been induced, by virtue of their connection to LGBT friends, relatives, and co-workers, to think of them as actual people rather than the idiotic stereotypes they've had blasted into their brains for so long by variously cruel, ignorant, and agenda-driven agitators. It is, after all, very much the same process that we LGBT folk have gone through with our own friends, relatives, and co-workers.

The classic case has always been mothers. Mothers by and large grasp that their first job is to love their children, and so when a mother finds out that her son and daughter is a member of one of these taboo categories, while it may come as a shock at first, no matter how much propaganda she's absorbed over her lifetime, it's mighty hard for her to think any less of that child, or to love him/her any less. Grandparents tend to be pretty swift about this too.


But eventually the tendency is for most everyone who knew the person before they knew this paticular fact about him/her to grasp that this is the same person they know, except maybe that now they know the person better, more fully. No matter how much ill will has been pumped into their heads by, say, ill-informed and ill-intentioned religious figures, people tend to be pretty good about this, when they're dealing with actual people and not abstractions.

And so, while I bristle at the obviousness of it, I'm not sorry to see a piece like Robetrt P. Jones's faith-based Washington Post column, "Sen. Portman and the 'friends and family effect' on same-sex marriage," see the light of day, focusing on --
what might be called the “friends and family effect”: the nearly 30-point gap that exists in attitudes on same-sex marriage between those who have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, and those who do not. Among the approximately 58 percent of Americans who report having a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, six-in-10 (60 percent) support allowing gay or lesbian couples to marry, compared to 35 percent who oppose it. Among Americans who do not have a close friend who is gay or lesbian, opinions are a mirror image: only three-in-10 (31 percent) support same-sex marriage, and 62 percent oppose it.
Note that the Public Religion Research Institute study referenced here dates back to 2011, so we're not exactly talking about stop-the-presses news. And we should hardly be surprised by the kink in the findings that, as Jones puts it,
the friends and family effect is considerably more muted among Republicans. The friends and family gap among Republicans, who are much more opposed to same-sex marriage and significantly less likely than other Americans to report having a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, is only 10 points, compared to 23 points among independents and 39 points among Democrats.
Well, my goodness, people whose minds have been more thoroughly permeated by ignorance and hate have a harder time shaking free of its influence! It's hardly any wonder then, that when Republicans like the monstrous Cheneys, "Big Dick" and Lynne, have chinks in their armor of unremitting hatefulness and evil on the subject of same-sex affinities, no doubt attributable to their experience of adjusting to their daughter Mary's well-known same-sex affinity, they can be dismissed as people who care only about their own.

And I don't think this dismissal should be dismissed. In Senator Rob's public statements to date, it's hard to see much enlightenment beyond the desire not to see his son tarred with the brush that has been traditionally used on homosexuals generally. As Howie pointed out, his record on matters LGBT-related which he's had occasion to cast votes on is dreadful, and doesn't appear to have gotten ay less dreadful in the two years during which he's been chewing over young Will's revelation.

And this is why I'm withholding official approval of Senator Rob's volte-face. (Howie and I had a high school history teacher who loved to use the word volte-face. He seemed to manage to work it into just about every class.)

I want to see him do, or hear him say, one more thing that indicates he actually understands the issues he's stumbled into, and actutally believes what he seems to be saying.


I noticed, for example, that in the obvious follow-up questions Senator Rob had thrown at him, for which despite their obviousness he seemed wholly unprepared, he responsed with tortured variations on "no comment" or "mind you own beeswax." Like questions about any actions he might take as a result of his newfound understanding of the unfairness of denying same-sex couples the right to marry. As far as I could tell, that new understanding doesn't seem to extend to any foreseeable legislative support or vote.

More important, it doesn't seem to extend to anything except the issue of same-sex marriage. So while the senator seems to want Will to have the right to marry the right man, should he come along, he doesn't seem at all concerned about Will being subject to discrimination in employment or housing, about the ease with which in most states he can be fired just for being gay, or denied the right to rent or buy a home. One could be cynical and say, why the hell should he worry about the son of a U.S. senator being subject to abuse in the workplace or in the housing market?

I don't think I'm asking for much: just one more thing. He could, for example, announce that he has signed on as a co-sponsor of ENDA, the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- and in an all-LGBT-inclusive version. No doubt, in Senator Rob's world, what he's done is an act of great courage. I'm merely pointing out that Senator Rob's world isn't the real one. And in the real world, what he's done so far doesn't count for much. Just look how little he would have to do for me to officially declare that he's not a no-guts cookie-cutter right-wing nonentity, he's a low-guts one.

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