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What gay marriage and cellphones have in common

June 24, 2013|By Karin Klein
  • Retired Rep. Barney Frank.
Retired Rep. Barney Frank. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay congressman, is angry with a Republican senator for -- supporting gay marriage?

Yes, sort of. Rob Portman of Ohio changed his viewpoint on same-sex marriage three months ago, and in doing so referred to the thought process he had been going through since learning that his son was gay. According to the Huffington Post, Frank said that Portman’s change of heart doesn’t “count” because it was more a matter of “being nice to your son.”

I get what Frank means. It’s disheartening when public officials, who are supposed to act for the welfare of all, don’t seem to open their eyes or hearts until an issue strikes home. They’re supposed to have a bigger view of the world and a deeper wisdom.

VIDEO OP-ED: Fighting for gay marriage and immigration reform

I felt that way when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly jumped on the distracted-driving bandwagon only after his daughter started driving and he fretted about the possibility that she might have one hand on the steering wheel and one on a cellphone. What about all the other young drivers before her? Didn't they count?

But that’s a little like expecting elected officials to be the heroes they seldom are. In truth, one of the major reasons that support for gay rights is growing among voters is that gays and lesbians have been more willing to come out, and so more people have been realizing that the group they mocked or demonized included people they liked, admired, cared about. It would be nice if we had empathy for all, but often, empathy is a learning process.

Frank's fellow Democrat, President Obama, also “evolved” on same-sex marriage because, he said, he had “very close friends who are married gay and lesbian couples.” (Though it’s also quite possible the president was more supportive of same-sex marriage than he sounded in 2008, when such support could have been a political liability.)

I wish the president hadn’t needed gay friends to wake him up to a bigger truth, just as it would have been better if Portman had thought about the other sons and daughters across the United States whose parents accepted them, listened to them and stood up for their rights, before his own son came out.

But limited as we are, we’re shaped by our experiences, and I’m willing to bet that Frank, who married his partner, is harshly judging some people and their situations because he hasn’t met them personally and doesn’t fully understand. Maybe he’s due for a little evolving himself.


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