Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons"

I see that since I wrote about my reaction to Rob Portman's decision to support marriage equality, a whole meme about the role of empathy (or lack thereof) as a base for what divides us has emerged.

I must admit though, that I am a little uncomfortable with some of how that meme is developing. That's because, as I look at my own life, I can see that my journey towards trying to understand my white privilege began 30 years ago when I cared about someone who was constantly being harassed due to racial profiling. And I finally opened my eyes to my own homophobia when a friend who was gay wrote an excruciating letter to me outlining what it was like to try to live her own life in denial about who she was. In other words, it was the people in my life who changed me.

As a matter of fact, based on my own experience, I came to the conclusion that much of the progress we see today on the issue of GLBT rights is a result of Harvey Milk's efforts to coax gay/lesbian people out of the closet. Here is Sean Penn from the movie Milk.

Milk knew that the day would come when the Rob Portman's of the world would change because it was THEIR son/daughter coming out to them. He knew that it was the silence and fear in the GLBT community that fed the myths and destroyed hope.

The title of this post is a quote from an article by Leonard Pitts way back in September 2004 on the occasion of Dick Cheney's announcement that he personally supported marriage equality.
Unfortunately for Cheney, conservativism has no place for him on this issue. It does not strive to be thoughtful or even noticeably principled where gay rights are concerned.

To the contrary, being persuadable is seen as weakness and being persuaded proof of moral failure. In Cheney's world, people do not seek to put themselves inside other lives or to see the world as it appears through other eyes. Particularly the lives and eyes of society's others, those people who, because of some innate difference, have been marginalized and left out.

Then someone you love turns up gay, turns up among those others.

One imagines that it changes everything, forces a moment of truth that mere reasoning never could. And maybe you find yourself doing what Dick Cheney does, championing a cause people like you just don't champion. Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons.
I guess I'm not so sure that Portman and Cheney are all that different from the rest of us when it comes to how we evolve on these issues. I think Harvey Milk knew that.

The critical question is whether the person involved has the capacity to let their love overcome the hate inspired by ideology. We know about public figures - like Alan Keyes - who took a different path. But things like that happen every day in households all across this country. Its why gay/lesbian/transgender youth are so over-represented among the homeless.

I guess that in the end, I agree with President Obama that we have an empathy deficit in this country. The question is - how are we going to overcome that? I think a little fearless self-examination is the answer. That...and embracing the cracks in the deficit when they finally show up.


  1. Hi SP
    Everyone of us should read this post from P.M.

    It actually hurt to read it, the truth of it is stunning. We have to figure out some aggressive actions. I dont think we can get the media to do the hard work of revealing this travesty!


  2. I have the same feeling about this. It would have been great if Portman could have come to this decision because of a high moral regard for the rights of all. At least he has come to it. As you said, he let love overcome the hate. That's what we all need to do. The people who are criticizing him seem as though they want to keep him in that box rather than welcoming him to the right side of history. I don't see what can be gained by that. The man is a visible representative of a party that despises the position he just too. That's moral courage too.