Skip to main content

Sometimes empathy is thrust upon us

A few posts from Kevin Drum made me ask that question. The first one is the story of Rob Portman changing his stance on gay marriage because of his son:

That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.

Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.

That's a nice story. I'm glad Portman and his wife we able to accept their son as he is, and that their son had the courage to come out and inspire this change in view by his father. In relation to that story, Kevin posted this data comparing how members of congress vote on women's issues when they have daughters and when they don't:

Sure, the effect is small, but among both Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress tend to vote better on women's issues if they have more daughters. Along the same lines, it's instructive to look at which Republicans in the Senate voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Personal experience makes a difference even here.

You don't have to have daughters or gay family members in order to take the liberal side on issues that affect them. But in relation to my last post about how my views changed, it seems to at least make people think about things when they are personally confronted with people that challenge their beliefs. That doesn't seem to work with logical arguments or data. Most people can rationalize their way around that. But it's harder to ignore family. Maybe we can force elected officials to spend time with each other's families, or better yet, families completely different than theirs.