Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has been taking some heat for his recent endorsement of gay marriage, a turnaround for the Republican lawmaker. But not all of the criticism has come from opponents of same-sex marriage.
Portman said his evolution on the issue occurred after his son came out as a gay man. And that's what irks defenders of marriage equality and gay rights: why should it take a personal connection to extend rights to Americans regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation? Is it only possible to stop judging people based on whom they love when one of those people is, in fact, someone you also love?
It's a legitimate question. But the reality is, when it comes to emotional issues— as anything involving love and sex are—it often takes an emotional connection to change someone's mind. You might be able to bring someone over to your side on reforming entitlements, for example, by laying out a series of charts and graphs. But sexuality and sexual identity runs so deep, and is so threatening to some people, that it's hard for them to get past the emotional barriers.
One could make a very logical argument that it's wrong to distrust someone based on his or her race. But what has really helped race relations is not textbook training. It's people of different races living among each other and realizing, 'hey, these neighbors of mine are pretty nice people.'
Even diseases have had to go through a period of acceptance. There was a time—and not so long ago, in the 60s and even the 70s—when people would whisper the word "cancer" as though it were something obscene, or which could be caught by even mentioning it. The same thing happened later with AIDS. But now, so many members of Congress have either had cancer or know someone who has cancer that the idea of not funding cancer research is considered absurd (with the exception of the overall budget-cutters).
Gayness is not a disease, but it's still scary to some people. And it's mainly scary because it seems so foreign to them—that is, until they realize they already have gay or lesbian friends, neighbors, or even children, they didn't know about before. It may not be the intellectual route towards acceptance. But it's acceptance nonetheless.