Senator Portman's Epiphany: Commendable or Just 'God-awful Narcissism'?

About two years ago, when Rep. Michele Bachmann was a rising star in the Republican Party, I wrote about her "shedding" her youthful Democratic roots and becoming a Republican. Some, including this author, called her conversion an "epiphany."

"I will not mock [Bachmann's] change of mind because in today's political climate, all too often changing one's mind, whether for better or for worse, can be considered a cardinal sin. Witness the withering attacks John Kerry endured during the 2004 presidential elections campaign when he tried to explain his votes on a funding measure for the Iraq war. The term 'flip-flopping' acquired an entirely new meaning. It became a pejorative and an effective one.

John Kerry's alleged 'flip-flopping,' along with the smear campaign on his Vietnam War record -- the so-called "swift boating" -- probably cost him the presidency."

I continued: "I will not mock Bachmann's conversion because I, too, shed my deep, Republican roots and became a Democrat many years ago. However, my conversion took many years and a lot more soul searching and agonizing than just reading a 'snotty novel.'"

Part of that "soul searching" -- in addition to a change of heart on the then-raging Vietnam War -- was coming to "the conclusion that 'compassion,' 'tolerance,' and 'inclusion' are a way of life with Democrats, not just hollow quadrennial campaign slogans," I said then.

Finally, I said:

"There were other reasons for my 'flip-flopping.' But the most personal and compelling reason was that so many from my previous party allege that my son is immoral, a biological error, or worse. A person who does not deserve all the rights and privileges other Americans enjoy. You see, my son -- the finest young man in the world -- happens to be gay."

This week, a prominent Republican, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who previously opposed same-sex marriage (he was a sponsor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act) announced that he has a gay son and that he has come to the conclusion that "this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that [he has] had for over 26 years." Portman adds in his CNN interview, "That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay."

In a Columbus Dispatch op-ed, which New York Magazine describes as "both a touching story of familial love and another signpost in the astonishingly rapid success of the gay-rights revolution," Portman tells how and why he changed his mind.

But New York Magazine, while calling Portman's conversion a "Very Good Thing" from the standpoint that "The triumph of the [gay marriage] issue relies upon the changing of minds -- some thanks to force of argument, others to personal contact with gay friends, colleagues, and neighbors" also says, "And yet as a window into the working of Portman's mind, his conversion is a confession of moral failure, one of which he appears unaware."

Others have also been critical of Portman's "flip-flopping" calling it "godawful narcissism," etc.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate, while glad that Portman has reconsidered his view on gay marriage upon realization that his son is gay, asks, "But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn't he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don't happen to touch him personally?" and suggests:

"But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son's eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn't that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn't to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It's to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don't have direct access to the corridors of power."

Yglesias, and others, may have a point.

There is a lot to criticize Senator Portman about.

But as someone who "has been there," I think of others in his party who, when faced with a similar situation with a son or daughter, would not only continue to support their own intolerant views and their party's bigoted legislation, but would even disown their own flesh and blood.

I also think of those conservative politicians who "legislating while gay" (in the closet) continue to support and vote for the most God-awful anti-gay legislation and measures.

The New York Times says, "Mr. Portman's revelation makes him the only sitting Republican senator to publicly support giving gay men and lesbians the right to marry, and one of the most prominent members of his party so far to speak out on the issue."

Senator Portman may indeed be the only sitting Republican Senator publicly supporting a cause that is just, right and timely. That makes him, in my eyes, a man who is standing tall with the majority of Americans who support equal rights for all Americans.

Yes, there is plenty to criticize Portman about, but at least he seems to have made peace with himself and his son -- something that is still so elusive to millions of Americans.

Perhaps that should count for something.