Isn’t interesting how those who would deign to feel it a matter of conscience and duty to legislate personal matters like gay marriage, contraception, abortion and the like on behalf of everyone else, suddenly have a dramatic change of heart when it affects them personally. Case in point, Republican Senator Rob Portman has long been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. He has consistently voted against every proposal to legalize it and supported the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban it.
Like Dick Cheney before him, not exactly a person known for having a soft heart (no pun intended), Portman has suddenly discovered he has a heart. He has realized that it is possible to have compassion for someone who might want to marry a same sex partner. That someone is his own son. Having found empathy with him, Portman announces that he has changed his mind and will from now on support the idea of gay marriage. This only goes to show how shallow and groundless are the convictions of those self-appointed moralists who oppose gay marriage.
What if everyone, especially those in a position of moral leadership, whenever confronted by a moral or ethical question on which they take a hard line position and self-righteously try to force everyone else to comply with, would ask themselves this question: “What if it were my son? What if it were my daughter? Would I be willing to soften my position if it came that close to home for me personally? Would I, like Senator Portman or Dick Cheney, let go of my so-called ‘principles’ under such conditions? Would I then stop being so self-righteous about it? Who am I to tell others how they should live?
This is the gift that Senator Portman and his brave son has given us. If we all had more empathy for others, like us or unlike us, the world would be a much better place. When church leaders and politicians pontificate and tell us how we should live our lives for no better reason than they simply don’t like how we choose to live, even though it harms no one, they are displaying a distinct lack of empathy. They are unable to put themselves in the shoes of the ones they criticize so self-righteously and wish to control. They fail to ask themselves, “What if it were my own 13-year-old daughter who was raped and wanted an abortion? Would I stand by my hard line position and let my daughter life be ruined, just so I could be right?” And what if they were to ask “What would Jesus do?
Yes, we have ethical principles and we need them for guidance on how we behave. But one of those ethical principles is ‘respect for persons.’ It is right up there with freedom, both of which are consistently compromised by the hard right politicians who want to tell us how to live our lives. But respect for persons requires the ability to empathize. Without empathy we can have no such principle. Thank God Senator Portman found some and was willing to share it publicly so everyone could give this some careful thought next time they are in a position to vote on such matters.