If you follow the news you have probably already heard that Ohio Senator Rob Portman has very publicly changed his position regarding gay marriage in recent days. Portman has always been a staunch opponent of gay marriage; in 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1999 he voted for a measure that would have prohibited same-sex couples in Washington state from adopting children; in 2011 hundreds of students at the University of Michigan protested having Portman speak at the school’s graduation ceremony because of his position on gay marriage. In response to that protest, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”
So what changed? Well, two things. One, Portman’s son “came out,” informing his parents in 2011 that he is gay. Two, this revelation caused Portman to “think of this issue from a new perspective,” he told Ohio reporters.
Senator’s Portman’s son’s sexuality is none of my business; it is a private matter–or at least it was, until his father brought it into the public square to explain his own sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal on the issue of gay marriage. And I do not choose those descriptors lightly. Allow me to explain….
The reversal is sad because, based on his own explanations, Portman has allowed the circumstances of his life to cause him to reinterpret Scripture, and to do so inaccurately. Here’s how it worked: Portman believed the Bible was clear in its opposition to homosexuality and its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman (he was right on both counts); Portman’s son informed his parents he is gay; Portman loves his son; Portman faces moral dilemma; Portman solves moral dilemma by deciding Scripture means something different than what it does, and what he had previously believed it did.
The reversal is sad because Portman decided that it was easier to embrace a false understanding of the very Word of God than it would be to stand firm in his convictions. It is easier to say God is love, and must surely want people to be happy than it is for Portman to tell his son that he loves him, but he hates his sin.
Yesterday Portman wrote a commentary in The Columbus Dispatch. In it he states that his son’s announcement has caused him to think about this issue in “a much deeper way.” Translation: I was opposed to gay marriage until I found out my son is gay, but my love for my son trumps my adherence to the Word of God. Portman writes that his son told him that “his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it is simply a part of who he is.” I am sure Portman’s son may believe that, and Portman may believe it, too. I have written here before about the issue of “homosexual orientation,” and I am not going to rehash that now. (Desire and Deceit, an excellent book on the subject by Albert Mohler addresses this issue, too). According to Portman, “At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”
Every parent wants–or at least should want–their children to love “happy, meaningful lives.” But part of tough love–in other words, part of being a parent–means standing firm when the way in which a child wants to live that life is contrary to what is God-honoring. Portman’s reasoning is exactly the same as that that I have challenged here repeatedly regarding the slippery slope that is the issue of gay marriage. Portman wants his son to be happy, Portman’s son is gay, so gay marriage should be okay? That’s absurd. What do we do when someone’s else’s son claims that what makes him happy is having sex with children? What do we do when someone’s daughter says that what makes her happy is the challenge of stealing and exploiting someone’s identity? What do we do when someone’s child says that what makes him or her happy is taking the lives of other humans whom they find to be unattractive, undesirable, or just plain irritating? Yes, yes, I know…those are not the same things, many will say. They are not the same actions, true–but they are all choices people make.
Portman continues, “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” There’s nothing wrong with such a wrestling match. What is wrong is realizing that the two cannot be reconciled and so deciding that the “Christian faith” should be reinterpreted in order to make it work out alright in the end. Does the Bible have an overarching theme of love and compassion? Yes. But only because the Bible also has an overarching theme of justice and holiness. We cannot accurately understand the love of God without accurately understanding the justice and holiness of God. Because He is a God of holiness, He cannot tolerate sin or have it in His presence. Because He is a God of justice, sin has a penalty that must be paid. Once we understand that, we can understand God’s love–His incredible, indescribable, truly awesome love that caused Him to send His only Son to pay the price for the sins of humanity because none of us can pay it ourselves. What the Bible clearly does not teach, Senator Portman, is that God’s love and compassion means God wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Are we all the children of God? In so far as He made us all, yes. In so far as we will all go to heaven? Not even close.
As far as I know all three of Portman’s children are grown, but can you imagine sitting down to tell them that what they had been taught and raised to believe was God’s Truth was actually wrong? “Well kids, your mom and I made a mistake. So did the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher, and, well, most of the Bible teachers we have respected over the years. Remember what we taught you about homosexuality? Turns out we were wrong. See, your brother is gay. Yes…that’s right. Your brother…our son. And he surely did not choose to be that way. It is just the way he is. It is the way God made Him, apparently. So, we have been wrong. Now that we know your brother is gay we can see it all clearly. We just never understood before. But gay people really love each other, and they deserve to happy just like everyone else. Just because your brother is attracted to men does not mean that he should be denied the right to marry when he finally finds the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with…..” You get the idea. Do you see it, though? Portman is saying that because his son is gay, God must surely think it’s okay.
Portman goes on to make one of the more idiotic statements on gay marriage I have ever heard: “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.” Uh, yeah…that’s one way to look at it alright. One very wrong, misguided, and–sorry, Senator–stupid way to look at it.
Portman’s lack of conviction (lack of spine?) is further evidenced in the following paragraph of his commentary, when he writes this: “Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” So, since most people think the idea is okay, it must be okay then. Sure. Another ridiculous argument. God’s Word does not fluctuate with the opinions of the people in America (or anywhere else). God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, and it is absolutely clear on the fact that homosexuality is sin, it is an abomination. Of course, we do live in a representative democracy in the U.S., so the opinions of the people can change the law. If that does happen it will not make it right, though, and Bible-believers need to do everything we can to oppose such a change.
And herein is why Portman’s reversal is so poorly timed: the Supreme Court will soon be hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and Portman joins the rising throng of people advocating it being overturned. The only thing Portman gets right in his commentary is his suggestion that the courts, and right now the Supreme Court in particular, should not decide this issue. “I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.” I agree with that statement. The Supreme Court needs to find only that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed lawfully and is constitutional, and leave the rest up to “we the people.” The Supreme Court must not legislate from the bench and declare gay marriage to be constitutional.