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South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson recently announced that he supported marriage equality.
South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson recently announced that he supported marriage equality.

Coming Out For Gay Marriage

Apr 22, 2013


When Ohio Senator Rob Portman announced he had changed his mind about same-sex marriage, you might have expected some criticism from religious conservatives. You might not have expected a wave of derision from the left, but that is what he received.

Portman explained that his opposition to gay marriage was rooted in his faith tradition. When he learned that his son was gay he came to look at the issue from a new perspective, “that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love.” Oddly, this is what liberals always said should happen. Once we get to know people who differ from us (or discover that we already know them!) we might find that our differences aren’t as real or important as we thought they were.

Portman’s change of heart did not please the left. Jonathan Chait explains: “wanting your children to be happy is the most natural human impulse. But our responsibility as political beings … is to consider issues from a societal perspective.” This strikes me as altogether wrong. As a “political being” Senator Portman’s responsibility is to take positions on the issues. He should be judged by those positions and how he acts on them, not on how he came to take such positions. While paternal love may be the reason he decided to support gay marriage, he is now in favor of legalizing the institution for anyone who might choose it. That is what will count when Ohio conservatives reconsider their support and it is what should count for everyone else.

Portman joins a number of prominent Democrats who have suddenly come out on the issue. President Obama recently saw the light, as did Hillary Clinton and her husband. It was President Clinton, after all, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Our own senior senator, Tim Johnson, announced that his “views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation.” We learn this just after we learn that Senator Johnson will not seek another term.

I am very suspicious of the Senator’s use of the term “evolved.” It implies that the views of others are not only wrong but primitive. I know a lot of intelligent and caring people who are opposed to same-sex marriage. While I do not agree with them, I don’t imagine for a moment that my view is somehow more advanced.

I also find it difficult to believe that all these sudden conversions were genuine. Obama and the Clintons are doctrinaire liberals. Their previous support for traditional marriage was motived entirely by political calculations. Now that the polls indicate an increase in public support for legal gay marriage, they can afford to tell us what they really think. I am not particularly offended by this. It looks like politics. I just don’t think that they are in any way more admirable than Rob Portman. Both his opposition to same-sex marriage and his subsequent change of heart were honest. 


Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


01:13 pm - Mon, April 22 2013
Bernie said:
Your point about the implication of the word "evolved" is interesting to those of us interested in the power of words. I hadn't thought about how insulting that word choice would be to those who disagree. I'm sure it has just become jargon in Washington, but I appreciate this understanding. Any good compromise on these difficult issues comes through respecting and understanding the other side.
02:32 pm - Mon, April 22 2013
larry kurtz said:
Curious: which part of clinging to god and guns escapes you, Ken? Even the phrase, 'same-sex marriage' is a dog whistle for those refusing to embrace firearm restrictions as 'gun control.'

The Right has chosen its own vernacular to describe evolution leading to its demise on the national political scene. Leave it to South Dakota to avoid evolving at all costs.
04:58 pm - Mon, April 22 2013
dave tunge said:
Politics will always be politics. Just jump on the wind blowing in the favorable direction for vote gettin'.
Yes, we have evolved. As a nation, we have evolved into something our predecessors who built this country would be ashamed of. Politically, morally, and financially.
Whether one believes that man was created by God or "evolved" from lesser life forms, the different sexes of all animal life was for the purpose of procreation. Gay, lesbian, transsexual, and bi-sexual activity is not the natural order of the universe.
I personally don't have any objections, nor should I, to this unnatural activity but I strongly disagree with those GLTB subscribers who would raise and teach their kids, or allow them to be taught, that this sexual preference is normal. Are we heading down a path where "our rights" are unlimited? Should marriage be limited to only 2 people? If one is bi-sexual should they not have the "right" to marry one of each sex? Family members?
It's interesting to watch this "evolution" take place in light of the fact that roughly 3% of our nation falls into the GLTB category.
07:39 am - Tue, April 23 2013
Jon said:
Really good point. The President, Senator Tim and the Clintons (??) will not be running for office again. I do think the general public's opinion has evolved though.

"Jargon in Washington" that is one thing that was bad 50 years ago and has only progressed from there. The latest I heard is we are only going to give help to the "good" Syrian rebels, now. Are they wearing jerseys now so we can tell.

What happened to generation X, I thought they were going to stop my generation. Did they just become part of it???
04:10 pm - Wed, April 24 2013
Dave brings up a useful point about the word "evolved." We commonly assume that evolution means progress toward better states, thus fueling Dr. Blanchard's umbrage at Sen. Johnson's use of that word. But evolution, in the strictest scientific sense, is value neutral. It's just change, and change is not inherently good.

Evolution does not have to lead to more sophisticated or beautiful creatures. Evolution simply favors the organisms that can secure enough resources to survive and reproduce at higher rates than other organisms. A change in environmental conditions could easily favor less sophisticated creatures -- alligators, mosquitoes, bacteria -- over more sophisticated humans.

And for those of you who'd like to compare politicians to bacteria, evolution may be the most apt word to describe changes in political position in response to a changing political environment.
10:13 pm - Wed, April 24 2013
Cory: I agree with your analysis of the term "evolution". Is that what you think Johnson meant when he used the word "evolved"? Did he mean that he mean that he had adopted a position more likely to survive in the current political environment just at the moment that he had elected to leave the gene pool? If so, then you confirm my view that the recent public conversions on same sex marriage were acts of mere expediency. Senator Johnson, President Obama, and the Clintons are telling us what they really believe only when it becomes useful to do so. The only surprise would be that they are admitting that their motives are purely tactical.

You can't be that naive. A term like "evolved" may strictly apply to "value neutral" phenomena, but it is also used to mean "progress toward better states". That is what Senator Johnson meant when he used the term. It was in part a cover for taking a position that he did not choose to take before he announced his decision not to run again. It implies exactly what I said it did.

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