Rob Portman’s gay marriage switcheroo, Sarah Palin’s celebrity and what this has to do with Pope Francis
It always seems disingenuous to start out this column with a lead like “X number of important things happened this past week.” It does, of course, go without saying, though I think it helps to be forcibly reminded once in a while — why else would you read this page except, for example, to be forcibly reminded that I’m sort of an a-hole — else we devolve into the fictionalized Charlie Kaufman in “Adaptation,” telling Brian Cox’s screenwriting guru, “But nothing happens in real life.” Google video that exchange, by the way, for an apt retort.
I think this is one of the root causes of our lack of empathy towards one another: a black hole type of insularity to our individual lives, an inability to see that, outside the flimsy film of our self-constructed bubble, people are born, die, love, lose, kill, save, laugh, cry, change and do not change. They, we, fill the nanoseconds that imperceptibly pass, each in the other’s blind periphery.
Be forcibly reminded, then, that we’re all sort of a-holes. Moving on.
Rob Portman, it seems, is becoming less of one. Yeah, he was already one of the saner, more moderate GOP operatives — the fact that he was ousted from the Republican primaries in early 2012 speaks highly of him — but prior to this year his voting record has exhibited a staunch, if not intentional and rigorous, stance against gay rights: he co-sponsored the 1996 federal ban on same-sex marriage, and voted for a 1999 measure prohibiting same-sex couples in Washington, D.C., from adopting children.
His recent reversal of position on same-sex marriage comes on the heels of, not surprisingly, finding out that his son was gay. That’s what happens when the Other is humanized: empathy kicks in, and we either learn to accept that which is different or, in Portman’s case, to continue loving someone he has always loved — every part of that person.
Speaking of which, Christians: don’t give me this “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense. I keep hearing this smug drivel from “religious leaders” and right-wing grassroots organizations spokespeople, and it just doesn’t work in this context. You can’t hate an aspect of someone based not only on love, but on the ongoing struggle to have that love universally accepted and validated — to, in other words, be treated like a human being — and still claim, with a straight face, to “love” that person. You do not understand how love, or Christianity for that matter, works.
Speaking of which: new pope! Whee! And, against all expectations, the best thing that can be said about Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio cum-Pope Francis I isn’t, “Well, at least he wasn’t a member of the Hitler Youth.” By all accounts, Bergoglio is the epitome of “decent human being.” His home in Argentina was modest, he rode the bus, he ate and prayed with the poor, and he blessed a freaking seeing-eye dog at his first press conference.
Just after being ordained Pope Francis, he refused use of the papal limousine, and rode the elevator with his fellow cardinals (Mitt Romney could learn something here). He’s also made promises to reduce the Church’s material wealth, and step up philanthropic outreach.
But! His position on same-sex marriage — indeed, on homosexuality in general — is predictably, archaically, hateful. In July of 2010, when Argentina was considering legalizing same-sex marriage, Bergoglio wrote a letter to Argentina’s cloistered nuns. It reads in part:
“In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family… At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.
Let’s not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God’s plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that’s just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God… Let’s look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment… May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.” — National Catholic Register
It’d be quaint, really, if this man wasn’t at the head of a politically powerful organization. More than anything, though — and I’m going to kind of contradict my last statement here — this illustrates how disconnected the papacy, and the upper Catholic hierarchy, is from Catholics worldwide, especially in the United States. A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage; a majority of Americans also claim either some form of Protestantism or Catholicism. Methinks the demographics bleed.
After Bergoglio’s stance became known, several Argentine priests came out in defense of same-sex marriage; one was defrocked. Rob Portman won’t be kicked out of the Republican Party, but only because he was borderline inconsequential in the context of their power grabs in the first place.
Meanwhile at CPAC a few days ago, the party trotted out Sarah Palin to shamelessly pander to teabaggers and poledance for dye job money. To put the kind of audience Republicans still court into context, there were two major applause moments in her speech: when she pulled out a Big Gulp and when she derided Obama’s call for more strenuous universal background checks, saying that we “should have started with yours, Mr. President,” because Sarah Palin is an insane Birther who thinks everyone has a constitutional right to be shot in the face.
If there is one positive to take away from all this, it’s that this re-upping, this continued insistence of Church and Party bosses on toeing the same old lines, results in the increased democratization of the citizenry that comprises the true body of those organizations. When Cardinal Dolan went after nuns last year, telling them to abandon their work among the poor in order to campaign against same-sex marriage, the nuns refused — guess who the faithful backed?
Republican leaders demonized Obama; Portman went to work for the administration as an ambassador, and has since turned a major moral corner. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, power wanes in time. Love, acceptance, a sense of what is truly right, rises in the midst of such waning. You Might Also Like: