In 2011 the choice of Michigan Law alum (and acclaimed Barack Obama impersonator) Rob Portman as the law school's commencement speaker was controversial. Dean Caminker got a letter of protest from members of the student body asking that he withdraw the invitation based on Portman's opposition to gay rights. In light of Portman's announcement yesterday that he has had a "change of heart" on the issue of same-sex marriage, the letter is worth a new look:
We are not writing because Sen. Portman is a Republican, nor because he served in the Bush Administration. Neither is a fair or principled reason to retract his invitation. Rather, we are discouraged by this choice because Sen. Portman vocally and actively supports denying equal rights to gays and lesbians, many of whom will be attending this year’s Senior Day ceremony. As a member of the House of Representatives, Senator Portman voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, as well as for a statute banning gay adoption. While running for Senate he again expressed his support of these positions, and there is no doubt that as a senator he will continue to oppose civil rights for LGBT citizens. While we do not wish to silence debate on these issues, nor to categorically deny individuals with anti-gay politics any opportunity to speak at the law school, we believe that your decision to host a Senior Day speaker who is openly hostile to LGBT rights is deeply unfair to the LGBT students who will be in the audience this year celebrating their graduation. For many members of our class, it will sully a milestone that would otherwise be a source of great pride, and it goes against Michigan’s very own policy of supporting equal treatment of the LGBT student community.
Note to Michigan law professors -- consider beefing up your warnings about avoiding absolutes when making arguments.
In his New York TImes blog today Frank Bruni, who has known Portman for many years, writes about how times have changed.