Revealed Preference

by Mike Kimel

Revealed Preference

This week came news that Rob Portman, a Republican senator from Ohio, is bucking his party and reversing his own long-held position on gay marriage. Now that his son has come out as gay, he supports it. From an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by reporter Sabrina Eaton:

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Thursday announced he has reversed his longtime opposition to same-sex marriage after reconsidering the issue because his 21-year-old son, Will, is gay.

Portman said his son, a junior at Yale University, told him and his wife, Jane, that he’s gay and “it was not a choice, it was who he is and that he had been that way since he could remember.”

“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman told reporters in an interview at his office.

The conversation the Portmans had with their son two years ago led to him to evolve on the issue after he consulted clergy members, friends including former Vice President Dick Cheney, and the Bible.

I personally favor the concept of allowing any rational consenting adults to get married, though I doubt it would  personally affect any of my closest acquaintances. (I am still waiting for someone to explain how the wedding of two people of the same gender diminishes my own marriage to my wife, or what business it is of mine who someone else wants to marry.) That said, some random thoughts:

1. Portman’s new views seem to be a case of him caring for his own but not for others. After all, he could have given the issue thought at any time and reached the same conclusion. He just had to muster up compassion for other people the way he did for his son, but that, apparently, was outside his capability. One wonders what other positions he holds that he might reverse himself on were it to affect a family member and what other convictions he holds would be abandoned for self-gain. If he discovers one of his other children enjoys forging other people’s signatures on checks, can we expect the senator to abandon his long-held beliefs on certain types of fraud or theft? If that sounds like an extreme example, bear in mind that Portman co-sponsored a bill banning same-sex marriage, and did what he could to make it harder for same-gender couples to adopt children. This was not a lightly held belief. Can we know which of his other core convictions are up for grabs for private gain? Can we know which aren’t?

2. The article indicates he consulted with Dick Cheney, who famously supported gay marriage after one of his daughters was revealed to be gay. But Dick Cheney is also an example of someone who will abandon his stated convictions. During his various terms in different government offices, both pre and post his private sector stints, Cheney did what he could to prevent Americans from having dealings with Iran. Of course, Cheney made exceptions when it would benefit himself or his friends. GOP congressman Warren Rudman noted of the Iran Contra hearings:

“It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened.” Later, Halliburton, while led by Dick Cheney, did business directly with Iran. Essentially, Cheney’s behavior shows us that as far as he is concerned, putting the screws on Iran is an endeavor that was and is worth the cost, provided the costs are not paid by Cheney or his friends.

I don’t have much else to say about this, except that, despite the fact that Portman has now come out supporting a position I have long held, I trust him to do the right thing less now than I did before.