Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2016

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Jon Ralston:

History is made on same-sex marriage

I’m not often stunned or uplifted anymore, but I was both this week when the leader of a branch of the United States government actually spoke from his heart about gay marriage.

I speak, of course, of Sen. Harry Reid.

Shortly after President Barack Obama’s choreographed and yet awkward embrace of same-sex marriage — coming after Vice President Joe Biden stole his thunder and preceding all manner of whispered post-spin about how POTUS was planning on saying it before the convention — Reid put out a stunning statement:

“My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married. The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd.

“In talking with my children and grandchildren, it has become clear to me they take marriage equality as a given. I have no doubt that their view will carry the future.”

I haven’t seen such a sincere effusion from Harry Reid since about a year ago when he thanked God for giving him Sharron Angle out of the Republican primary.

After the president’s “I’m for gay marriage, but let the states decide” pronouncement, Reid’s statement, followed Thursday by his declaration that he would vote to repeal the ban in Nevada, was positively scintillating.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had reported in 2010 of how that the majority leader spoke at the wedding of an openly gay staff member. “According to a source who was present, Reid spoke powerfully in favor of equality for gay and lesbian Americans,” Sargent wrote.

But the words this week from the second most famous Mormon politician in America still strike me as remarkable for their expansiveness and — I don’t use this word often anymore, either — genuineness.

Reid could have simply echoed the president. But he went much further.

People should be able to marry whomever they want and it’s no business of mine. There is no more concise and eloquent way to say it. And it came out of the mouth of Harry Reid, hardly known as a progressive Democrat, a man who has struggled with his pro-life views in a party not very welcoming to that position and who has to constantly justify himself to the left.

“The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd.” Note the use of the word “always,” thus suggesting no evolution on Reid’s part.

“In talking with my children and grandchildren, it has become clear to me they take marriage equality as a given. I have no doubt that their view will carry the future.” I could almost hear him singing Whitney Houston — the children are our future, Reid was saying, and they will lead the way on this issue.

Yes, I understand the difference between Reid and Obama when it comes to political risks. Reid is not up again — if he even runs — until 2016. By then, the future may be now.

Obama went much more out on a limb with this gambit, coming right after a swing state (North Carolina) banned gay marriage in a landslide. Other swing states, including Nevada, either have done so, or have polling that indicates Obama’s newfound embrace of same-sex marriage is not a winner.

I find it comical that Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, pointing out that it was 10 years ago that Nevadans voted 2-to-1 to outlaw gay marriage, might be ready to vote for it, perhaps reflecting national polls indicating slight majority support. Really? I don’t think so, although I believe that Reid would vote for it, as he said he would.

The majority leader’s statement provided a rare glimpse behind his political mask, surely infuriating some members of his church and reinforcing for many conservatives why he is a bête noire. The senator’s rare openness induces me to reveal my own views on this subject, which are colored, but not determined, by one of my brothers being in a same-sex marriage.

While I respect the right of anyone who says their religion tells them marriage “is between a man and a woman,” as the formulation goes, and I respect the public’s right to vote how it wants to define marriage, I can’t get beyond what Reid said: It’s no business of mine. Or anyone else’s.

Those who believe otherwise truly are on the wrong side of history. Or, as Harry Reid, my brother and countless same-sex couples will tell you, history has passed them by.

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