I thought about attempting to explain the shift in the perception of the LGBT rights movement within the political class using a number of anecdotes, examples, and data. After a number of attempts I decided it was too much effort. Ultimately a simple thought experiment is easier.
You are an elected official. You’ve been on The Hill for the better part of a decade now and you have a loyal and dedicated staff. Among them is your Deputy Chief of Staff. He (or she) has been with you since the beginning — back when you were an off-message less-than-nothing in a crowded primary field fighting for the honor of losing to some jerk in a heavily gerrymandered district. Against all odds, you won. This staffer worked hundred hour weeks for almost no money to put you in office. Ever since then, he’s been one of your closest confidants — no matter whether the subject is political or personal, you talk about these things with your priest and wife, but for some matters you would trust this staffer’s word over theirs. One day, after a vote on a matter pertaining to LGBT rights, you notice something amiss and eventually you ask if there’s something wrong in his family.
“I’m gay,” he says dejectedly.
You regard yourself as a decent person and, while you’ve known for a long time that gay people existed, you never realized that one was in your office and in your life, helping you. You feel that you owe him an explanation of why you did what you did, but the stock answers aren’t cutting it as you go through them in your head.
What do you do?
Your initial moral inclination is to rationalize your prior beliefs. If you’ve even a minimally developed theological muscle, you ask yourself whether this person’s decent behavior toward you would excuse him of other serious crimes like murder which are also proscribed by your religion. You answer yourself no, it would not. Yet here this man is, standing and waiting for your response. You don’t honestly think of him as a murderer, and at this point you realize that you’re having a very difficult time justifying what you’ve done to civil law using civil reasons.
Obviously this is a thought experiment, and I’ve yet to hear of a case of this exact scenario happening, but it is well established that the views and preferences of staffers have an appreciable impact on those of their bosses (even if only passively.) I find it difficult to imagine that something similar does not exist here. Politicians, whatever we may think of them, are sometimes all too human (aren’t we all?) In instances like these, both in public and private life, I suspect that the discriminating party has felt guilt — or as a number of natural law scholars (most of whom would disagree with how many who engage this experiment in their personal lives end up deciding it) would call it, the faint stirrings of morality. Not merely the guilt of letting down a friend who was acting in a way thought to be immoral, but the uncertain and uneasy guilt associated with entering a state of reflective equilibrium. Regardless, I suspect that though a number of people would deny it, their moral inclinations have (over the past two decades) stirred in a rather different way than their religious ones.