Last Thursday, the movement against same-sex marriage saw its latest defection, as Senator Rob Portman of Ohio announced his support for marriage equality. Portman, rumored to be on the short-list for the VP slot on Mitt Romney's presidential ticket, said he came to embrace his position after his own son told Portman he was gay. Reactions ranged from appreciative acceptance from some, to respectful disagreement from others. And then, of course, were the ideologues on both sides.
The Family Research Council's leader, Tony Perkins, claimed Portman was at fault by offering support for "choices that are both harmful to [sons and daughters] and society as a whole." Not to be outdone, some on the left voiced their disgust that Portman's switch came only in the face of a personal connection to the movement - seemingly ignorant of the fact that their own party's most visible face, the president, only endorsed the same position months ago.
Regardless of these reactions, however, Portman's new position illuminates a growing trend in America, as more and more of the population recognizes a need for marriage equality. Slowly yet surely, state by state, same-sex marriage has become first a possibility, and then a reality. Its acceptance on a national stage, however, has remained elusive. Despite a recently released ABC News poll that put national support at 58% percent (and, notably, 81% among those between 18 and 29 years old), it remains a politically charged and contentious issue. If we are to truly hold ourselves as a nation of equals, a country of uniform opportunity and a land with liberty for all; however, this division cannot stand.
Some have hailed marriage as the fabric of society. I don't necessarily disagree. I do believe, however, that this fabric is made better by opening it up to every American. I believe the states and nations that have embraced same-sex marriage have seen their societies strengthened, not damaged, by it. I have a hard time believing that allowing loving adults to make their commitment official has the ability to harm anyone, much less lessen the value or meaning of marriage for others.
Some have hailed marriage as a historic institution. Again, I have no argument. But historic institutions are not always best left without change. Slavery was a historic institution. Democracy, as a historical institution, long listened to the voices of everyone - so long as those voices were male, white and wealthy.
I readily acknowledge that same-sex marriage is often complicated by religious influences. I've watched firsthand as religious groups, including my own Diocese, lent immense vocal and financial support to the "traditional" marriage campaign in Maine. But in the case of civil same-sex marriage, the question is not a religious one - at least it shouldn't be. While religious leaders hail marriage as a religious institution, it is also undeniably a civil one, bearing legal and financial implications in addition to its consecration of commitment. Followers of countless religions, as well as those who follow none, are married. Marriage, in its civil form, is ultimately distinct from its many religious forms.
So long as civil marriage is governed federally, its availability must be governed by equality, rather than any given religious text or a religion's lingering discrimination. While some states have come to guarantee this equality, the lack of a national acknowledgement and resolution of today's most pressing civil rights issue draws unfortunate and yet well-deserved comparisons to civil rights issues of the past. As with those issues of the past, the rights of a few ought not be subject to the votes of the many. Regrettably, these decisions historically may not come solely at the ballot box but also by the correcting guidance of the gavel. Eventually, however, I have little doubt that equality will come to pass.
Whether split upon religious or generational lines, there is a clear and irreversible trend toward marriage equality. This division, fortunately, has also become somewhat less political. More and more, Republicans from David Frum, John Huntsman and Dick Cheney to Rob Portman have come to embrace such a movement. For various reasons, they have come to realize that such equality is the appropriate position regardless of one's politics. They've also come to realize that focus upon such an issue puts their party both at a disadvantage, and on the wrong side of history. They've come to realize that a party for liberty ought to protect the rights of all, and a party that seeks to embody economic growth might be better off listening to the myriad CEOs who have filed briefs in support of same-sex marriage.
I have little doubt about the eventual resolution of the same-sex marriage debate. I do, however, have some regret. My regret is not at the arrival of such equality, for it is long overdue. Rather, my regret is in part the time such a change may take. My regret is embodied by the struggle I have seen relatives, coworkers and friends endure for the ability to have their relationships recognized. My regret is in part because I know that a religion to which I belong has not supported a movement I feel is necessary, and at times actively fought against it. While I consciously know I shouldn't expect it to change, this fact nevertheless produces some measure of sadness for me.
This regret, however, resides alongside some hope for the future. I know in time the mere existence of such a debate will be looked back upon with the same repugnance as the existence of debates surrounding slavery, segregation, internment and discrimination, and court cases denying such equality will be met with the same sad remorse as Dred Scott, Brown, and Korematsu. I have hope for an era when such inequity is a distant memory. I have hope for a future in which coworkers, friends and relatives will enjoy a status as equals with the same opportunity that I enjoy. Ultimately, I have hope for a future in which marriage is truly defended as a worthwhile institution for all rather than for the many.
Matt Miklavic is a sophomore studying political science and business from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He can be reached at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.