When Rob Portman, Republican senator from Ohio, changed course and announced his support for gay marriage after learning that his own son was gay, my initial reaction wasn’t very positive. “How convenient,” I figured. “People have been trying to advance the cause of gay rights for decades, and only when it affects you directly are you finally convinced?” I didn’t think very highly of Portman’s change of heart. Real character change shouldn’t require the issue being so close to home.
Surprisingly, my gay friends didn’t see it that way. Having likely seen this change occur in multiple before, usually people they know, it wasn’t news to them that personal experience is often the motivator for changing one’s outlook. They were happy enough to have the senator’s vote, and weren’t very concerned about the sincerity of his turnaround.
This week I’ve seen a much more public display of this dynamic on display in the blogosphere. One of my favorite bloggers, Benjamin Corey, wrote a very nice article apologizing to the LGBT community for his past behavior. You can read it here. The comments on his blog are mostly other Christians agreeing that they too had behaved badly, and agreed with the apology.
One of Ben’s friends at the Friendly Atheist blog shared the article on that site. The difference in the comments is striking. In addition to the usual masturbatory comments about how any shift to the left should logically lead to atheism, a number of people attacked Mr. Corey for his apology, accusing him of being too late to the party, and finding multiple ways to be offended. These people are for me the equivalent of who fundamentalists are for Benjamin Corey - an offensive extreme of an otherwise reasonable conclusion.
If the whole point of advocating for social causes is to change the minds of those we disagree with, why is it so hard for us to take yes for answer when people finally do change their minds?