That is admirable, and it does credit to the senator for letting himself be open to feeling for his son. That is the way people change their negative feelings toward gay men and lesbians -- by coming to know in a deeply personal or empathic way, someone who is gay and realizing what it is like for them. That is empathy.
Nevertheless, this is a crack in the solid wall of opposition from Republicans (except a few notable exceptions who also have gay family members, like Dick Cheney, who spoke of his personal support for gay marriage in a 2008 VP debate).
When Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) was asked whether he might ever reconsider his opposition, Chambliss replied:
"I'm not gay. So I'm not going to marry one." **Besides being a non sequiter and a rather silly response, notice that he doesn't call for a constitutional amendment. It's sounds almost like he's saying, "It's not for me, . . . but live and let live." So why not vote to make it legal? Because he can only think about himself, and this isn't something that he wants. So why should he support it for someone else? That's a lack of empathy.
There is a different view being put out there on the blogosphere about this. Some are suggesting that it indicates that Republicans have mostly given up the ideological, political position on it, that they're accepting the political reality. And that individual acceptance will come as individuals have experiences that show them, through empathy, what it's like to be different.
This line of argument says: It has ceased to be such an ideological thing for them; now it's simply personal. Even John Boehner, in reaffirming his opposition, made it personal: "It's the way I was brought up. . . . It's what my church teaches." But he seemed sympathetic to Portman's different feeling.
If so -- if it's all a matter of empathy -- and I strongly believe that this is part of the problem, but only part -- then there is more hope. Maybe that's their problem on the economy as well -- a lack of empathy for other people's problems.
So let's start a campaign to get all Republican politicians involved in some program that pairs them with disadvantaged people, minority people, gay people, all those who are hurt by their policies -- and make them spend time with them, getting to know them on an everyday, personal level. The object would be to put them in positions where they could change their policy positions through empathy.
And then we'd find out if it's an immutable lack of capacity, or if it's a lack of experience and perspective.
** I just remembered. A few years back, one of the quippish responses to the opposition to gay marriage was this: "If you're opposed to gay marriage, then don't marry a gay person. But don't stop others from doing it." Maybe Chambliss remembers that, and that was his mocking reference.