What is the difference between "evolving" and "flip-flopping"?
State Rep. Darryl Rouson is tussling with this question as the Aug. 26 District 55 Democratic primary approaches because he has gone from opposing same-sex adoption to publicly supporting it.
Now, Rouson, an attorney and former president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, must explain his new stance to some of his old friends and to his many skeptics who think they see a case of cynical politics unfolding.
Rouson told me the other day that he can appreciate people's questioning of his newfound support of same-sex adoption. After all, he was a Republican who advocated conservative issues until January when, as he said, Democratic leaders persuaded him to run for the District 55 seat being vacated by Frank Peterman who was appointed as secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
As the March 25 primary to replace Peterman approached, Rouson announced at a public forum that he had become a supporter of same-sex adoption. When he reiterated his new position recently, his current opponent, the Rev. Charles McKenzie, who ran against Rouson in March, challenged the sincerity of the conversion. McKenzie reminded Rouson of his previous denunciation of same-sex adoption and homosexuality.
McKenzie was referring to Rouson's February 2006 appearance on WEDU's Florida This Week, where Rouson said: "I think it is wrong to allow adoptions of children by gay and lesbian couples. It sends a wrong message early to a child during formative years that's hard to overcome just by sitting down and talking to them. … I think lesbianism and homosexuality is morally wrong. … We need to go back to some morals of what used to be and keep things as simple as the Ten Commandments."
That was then. Last Monday, an acquaintance sent Rouson a video of that TV appearance, and he watched it. Given the video's content, I asked Rouson if voters could trust that he now supports same-sex adoption.
Why should they not think that he is flip-flopping for political expediency?
I quote his response at length: "I haven't flip-flopped. I have become educated. I have evolved. I hadn't seen the video or revisited my words on the show until Monday afternoon. It was a forgotten matter. When I heard those words and saw my demeanor, I was saddened that I was so condemning and cavalier about my fellow human beings. I am not God. Nor should I sit as God and condemn or judge any human.
"My words were harsh, divisive and painful. … I knew immediately in my gut that I had to correct that. For me, it was a humanitarian issue. The only issue of political expediency I thought about was that I did not have to issue an apology to win the District 55 seat. Discrimination against that community is rampant in the pulpit of the black churches. This is a majority black district.
"In the ensuing time since the taping, I have forged relationships with individuals in that community, and these are individuals I genuinely like. They are good people. I have seen more vividly and paid more critical attention to the matter of children in the foster care system born to crack-addicted moms with dads in prison. Why should they languish in a cold system when they could be in loving households — same-sex households? The paramount interest is the love and welfare of the children.
"For me, it was not a theological or biological debate. It was not even a political one. It was just the right thing to apologize for causing pain and speaking in condemning words of a fellow human being. There was not any concern of losing this seat or winning this seat. If I lose, the worst case scenario is to go home to raise my five boys and make a ton of money practicing law. No, I didn't flip-flop. I evolved. It was a growth process."
I have no reason to doubt Rouson's sincerity. For an incumbent who has yet to establish a substantial legislative record, he is taking a huge risk by reiterating so vehemently his support of same-sex adoption so close to the election.