NAYAK: Honesty from Washington

One week after the Supreme Court heard arguments about same-sex marriage in Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Winsdor, we have reached a milestone previously unheard of in American politics: A working majority of the United States Senate now supports marriage equality. This is what Vice President Biden would call a BFD.

11 U.S. Senators have recently announced their change of heart, including Republican Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Sen. Portman should be commended for his reconsideration of this issue after he learned that his son, Will Portman ’14, is gay. As should always be the case, Portman was willing to change his mind in light of personal experience. We should applaud his decision and encourage others to follow his lead. Instead, many progressives have been critical of Portman’s announcement, arguing that his decision is a selfish one.

Here’s the problem: The same liberals who revile Rob Portman for recently announcing his support of marriage equality laud Democratic Senators for doing the same.

We should be much more troubled by Democrats’ politically expedient dishonesty on this issue over the last few years than by Rob Portman’s politically harmful honesty.

Unlike Portman, nine Democratic senators announced their support for marriage equality long after they appeared to have changed their minds on the issue.

They didn’t change their minds this week based on personal experience. They didn’t change their minds this week in response to Ted Olson’s eloquence before the Supreme Court or out of deference to Rob Portman. They didn’t change their minds this week at all.

Instead, they decided to disclose their long-standing views in the wake of new polling, by CBS and others, that shows 53% of Americans and 63% of Democrats now support marriage equality.

Some have argued that this polling justifies Democrats’ dishonesty on this issue. After all, politicians are supposed to follow public opinion. But the fact is, we elect our leaders to do just that: to lead. Since President Obama announced his support for marriage equality, public opinion has followed, jumping 13 percentage points. More importantly, LGBT Americans now know their President supports their right to marry whomever they love.

Even the President, who shocked many of us with his announcement in May of last year, was not entirely forthcoming with the American people on this issue. A notoriously careful politician, Obama would not have characterized his view as “evolving” unless it had already changed. Finally, his hand forced by loose-lipped Biden, Obama announced: “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Translation: I’ve thought this for a while, but I’m going to say it now.

Make no mistake — President Obama and Democrats in Congress have done great things for LGBT rights while most Republicans have been closed-minded on this issue. As someone who spent last semester staffing President Obama’s re-election campaign in his Chicago headquarters, I believe that he and other Democrats are on the right side of history. But that’s no excuse for dishonesty.

Our elected officials shouldn’t take their cues from changing electorates, favorable public opinion polls or their Facebook news feeds.

As citizens and voters, we have to make a decision on how to respond to these Democrats.

We can say that this is just the nature of politics, and, in the process, we’ll reinforce this kind of craven, self-serving behavior. Or, we can decide that we deserve better and we can demand honesty from our leaders in Washington, even if it means criticizing folks on our side of the aisle.

We can take a victory lap now that the tide has started to turn in our favor. Or we can try to make the long trek toward progress a little shorter in the future.

This isn’t the first time we’ve moved forward as a nation on a once-unpopular political issue, and it won’t be the last. The next time we do, we’ll need more Rob Portmans and fewer cowardly politicians sitting on the sidelines until it becomes politically convenient to enter the fray.

Vinay Nayak is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at vinay.nayak@yale.edu .

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