Should Michigan Law Students Have to Listen to an Anti-Gay Commencement Speaker?

Senator Rob Portman is set to speak at his old law school. But many current students don't want him there.

Rob Portman is a successful man. Currently the junior senator from Ohio, Portman, a Republican, is also a former U.S. congressman and once served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. In many ways, it makes total sense that the University of Michigan law school asked Portman to speak at this year's graduation, a ceremony he attended as an exiting student in 1984. But then there's his record on gay rights.

As a congressman from Ohio's second district, Portman voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and he also supported the Defense of Marriage Act. In the words of Portman's spokesman, Jeff Sadosky, the senator "believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman." That's not the whole story, however. Because in 1999, Portman also voted in favor of barring gay people from adopting children, an amendment that eventually failed. Which means that not only does Portman believe marriage should exist only for heterosexuals, he also believes gay people are unfit to be parents.

It's little wonder, then, that a group of Michigan law students is up in arms over the school's decision to ask Portman to speak. After three years in the trenches of academia, would you like to listen to a noted homophobe talk about how best to live your life, especially if your life is that of an LGBT man or woman?

"Michigan Law prides itself on its commitment to diversity and tolerance," wrote 98 graduating Michigan students in a letter to the dean, Evan Caminker. "While we do not wish to silence debate nor to categorically deny individuals with anti-gay politics any opportunity to speak at the law school, we believe that the decision to host a 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."

A group of Michigan law alumni has also come together to question Caminker's decision via an open letter, writing, "We do not believe that people who oppose gay rights should never have the opportunity to speak at Michigan Law. Rather, we are concerned about the message Michigan Law is sending by giving an anti-gay rights speaker the honor of marking what should be a joyful occasion for every member of the graduating class."

Despite the protestations, a Michigan spokesperson said Portman is still scheduled to give the address. It should be interesting to see the senator glad-handing LGBT law students with one hand while voting against their interests under the law with the other.


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