US Representative Glenn Thompson in 2017
LATE LAST MONTH, Glenn Thompson's son got married. At the wedding, the proud papa, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, delivered a heartfelt toast. Its theme was the yearnings mothers and fathers feel as they watch their babies grow. At the outset, he said, their urgent hope is that their children will be healthy. Then come the hopes for their safety, for them to "find their way, find opportunity, find inspiration." And then, he said, as kids approach adulthood, "we also hope and pray they're going to find that one true love so that they have . . . someone to grow old with."
As parents, Thompson reflected, "we love it when they find their one true love, especially when they become a part of our families then. That's what we're rooting for. . . . So we're just blessed and we just want to say thank you to everyone here as part of the celebration."
For attending his son's wedding and delivering that earnest toast, Thompson has been accused of "hypocrisy" in numerous media stories. Why would anyone smear the father of the groom for celebrating his son's marriage and welcoming a new loved one to the family? Because Thompson's son is gay and the new member of the family is a son-in-law — and because a few days earlier the congressman had voted against the proposed Respect for Marriage Act when it came up for a roll call in the House.
Thompson was far from the only one to oppose the bill. Three-fourths of the House GOP caucus, 157 members, voted "no." Considering that same-sex marriage now enjoys overwhelming public approval — with solid majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans all supporting the legality of marriage without regard to sex — it seems unlikely in the extreme that House Republicans rejected the bill en masse out of hostility to gay and lesbian marriages. And really — would a member of Congress who was about to publicly express happiness for his son's marriage to another man precede the occasion by doing something to publicly express antagonism toward such marriages?
The reason most Republicans voted against the bill is that they perceived it as a political gimmick. It would nullify the 26-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which defined "marriage" for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman. But the Supreme Court invalidated DOMA nine years ago in the case of Windsor v. United States. Two years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the court ruled that states as well as the federal government must recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. Legally and politically, DOMA has been a dead letter for nearly a decade. There is no need to pass a law saying so.
So why did House leaders bring the new marriage bill to the floor? In order to strike an election-year pose — to promote the Democratic message that the Supreme Court's recent abortion decision has thrown the legality of same-sex marriage into question. I don't doubt that many Democrats sincerely believe that. But the claim is groundless, not least because the court's majority opinion repeatedly emphasizes that the overruling of Roe v. Wade does not cast doubt on prior rulings involving marriage or gay rights. Heading into a midterm campaign, it may be in Democrats' political interest to pretend that same-sex marriage is under threat. That does not obligate Republicans to lend support to their opponents' posturing.
The word "hypocrite" gets thrown around a lot these days, but there is no hypocrisy in drawing a distinction between what Congress does and what private individuals do. There is no hypocrisy in declining to go along with a political charade. A hypocrite is one who doesn't accept for himself the moral standards he proclaims for others. If Thompson railed against same-sex marriage but celebrated such marriages when they involved his family, he would indeed be a hypocrite. But there's no indication that his vote against the Respect for Marriage Act was rooted in anti-gay hostility. And there is certainly no reason to imagine that he would cast a vote in Congress meant to undermine the marriage of his son.
Democrats and their media allies who seek to gain points by faulting Republicans for not backing the marriage bill are perfectly free to do so. But it's shameful to turn a father's words of blessing and gratitude into a weapon. Not much in our hyperpolarized environment is immune from politics. Can't we at least agree that affectionate wedding toasts are off-limits?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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