Silence has always served him well.
If others saw an opportunity to bluster, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was happy to demur. If the spotlight would occasionally brighten, Nelson was largely content to stay in the shadows.
He has made his mark as a centrist. A pragmatist. A cautious man with a careful plan.
So how strange it must be for Nelson to be dragged into a national controversy that he did not seek or have any interest in debating.
In case you haven't been following the story, a stampede of politicians have announced support of same-sex marriages in the wake of last week's Supreme Court hearings.
As many as 50 U.S. senators, including most of the Democrats in the chamber, appear to be on board. The changing tide has made for great theater and juicy headlines.
And it's left Nelson with no room to hide.
He's no longer the low-profile guy in the room full of loud voices. Now, Nelson is one of a handful of Democrats refusing to step forward on the issue of gay marriage.
Equality Florida has been hammering him on Twitter. Other Democrats in the state have begun to gently chide him. Websites are posting his mug shot with a half-dozen other Democratic holdouts, as if they're renegades roaming marble halls.
Florida's senior senator has responded that he's always been in support of civil unions, but he believes marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman.
He has every right to his beliefs, opinions and guiding principles. And if Nelson were your next-door neighbor, his thoughtful response would be more than enough.
But, of course, that's not the case.
Nelson is a U.S. senator, and his words carry weight. And while he has as much right to his opinion as you or I, he has a responsibility to keep personal beliefs from clashing with the hopes and dreams of people living everyday lives.
By now, Nelson should understand that. He's been in Congress for nearly 25 years, and that doesn't include his service in the state House and as insurance commissioner. He understands the art of compromise and governing for the greater good.
And if he looks at it rationally, he has to realize that supporting civil unions but not gay marriage is completely disingenuous. It suggests that same sex partners may live together, love each other, raise children and contribute to society as family units, but they have no rights when it comes to marriage.
How can any politician possibly defend that?
Not from a public service standpoint. Not from a basic human rights standpoint.
For if you listen to any argument against same-sex marriage, the conversation eventually circles back to personal opinions or beliefs.
And since opponents of gay marriage are the ones who are seeking to deny rights to a particular group of citizens, they carry the burden of proof beyond simply saying, "Well that's what I was raised to believe.''
In this case, I do not know why Sen. Nelson is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Is it a question of religion?
Is it generational?
Is it philosophical?
I could not say, and I do not care.
For in the context of public policy, there is only one argument that really matters:
It is unfair.
And that makes it wrong.