Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Abortion, Gay Marriage, and the Young

Mirror of Justice links to an interesting New York Times magazine article on the attitudes of the younger generation toward topical social issues. Indeed, the Times seems almost surprised when it reports:
"Young Americans, it turns out, are unexpectedly conservative on abortion but
notably liberal on gay marriage. Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the least
Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20
percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious
that on abortion they are slightly to the right of the general public. Roughly a
third of Gen Nexters endorse making abortion generally available, half support
limits and 15 percent favor an outright ban. By contrast, 35 percent of 50- to
64-year-olds support readily available abortions. On gay marriage, there was not
much of a generation gap in the 1980s, but now Gen Nexters stand out as more
favorably disposed than the rest of the country. Almost half of them approve,
compared with under a third of those over 25."
The Times goes on to suggest that the strong support for gay marriage shows that the young have not become complacent about "sexual rights", whatever their views on abortion. But what it fails to understand is that abortion is a key component in the gospel of life, not a private sexual matter, and not an issue of "sexual rights". Perhaps the young, with their greater zeal for human rights and equality, understands this better than the baby boom generation (of course, there are some troubling signs in the attitude of the young too, such as increasing materialism and narcissism). But it is nonetheless an optimistic sign that the least Republican generation is more, not less, opposed to abortion. It shows that the seamless garment uniting all aspects of the culture of life (not just those most compatible with a particular secular ideology) is alive and well.

What about the gay marriage results? I believe this issue is over, and will rapidly become as accepted as contraception and divorce. This, however, puts the Church in a tricky spot. But there is a way out. As I noted recently, the moral issues involved in gay marriage are nowhere close to those surrounding the sanctity of life. While the legalization of homosexual unions has clear implications for public morality, it ultimately deals with fundamentally private acts. John Courtney Murray defended the decriminalization of contraception precisely on these grounds. As conservative George Weigel noted in making distinctions between the shades of morality, "contraception is a matter of "conjugal morality and the sixth commandment" while abortion is a matter of "public justice and the fifth commandment". But homosexuality is also a sixth commandment matter.

Of course, the legal recognition of homosexual unions has clear public morality implications. But then again, so do contraception and, especially, divorce. And anyway, the public implications are automatically diminished by the current state of secular marriage which (to put it mildly) falls far short of the sacramental ideal. One of the core arguments put forth by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is that the legal recognition of homosexual unions spreads "erroneous beliefs" about marriage and sexuality. But could it get much worse in the era of serial monogamy and Britney Spears? And even when the law has a role to play, Murray thought it should be as minimal as possible. In this regard, given the strong support for gay marriage among the young in particular, rigid opposition could backfire. It would be a shame to alienate a generation that is eminently persuadable on gospel of life issues, including abortion. But this does not mean the Church has to accept the legitimacy of gay marriage. Far from it. But by accepting the secular arrangement, and thereby making a cleaner distinction between secular marriage and the sacrament, the Church could enhance its teaching role. And here, everybody benefits.


scriblerus said...

Homosexual acts may be private matters, but homosexual marriage most certainly is not. Once you have homosexual marriage recognized, you will have to face full on the issue of adoption and child rearing. How a society decides to raise its children is anything but a private matter. Given what the Catholic Church has said about the importance of children being raised in families this will be an extraordinarily tricky issue.

See developments in Britain for a frightening comparison.

Morning's Minion said...

I am in no way suggesting that the Church should ever be forced to recognize gay marriage. Nor should its adoption agencies be forced to do something that violates Catholic teaching. But letting the state do its own thing, as is the case with divorce for instance, is another matter entirely.

Mike McG... said...

Quick note to commend you for this posting...and the blog in general. I am sick to the death of the constant rhetorical linking, by left and right alike, of opposition to abortion with opposition to gay marriage.

Not all of us buy into the package-deal constellations pushed by ideologues of all stripes. Yet those who uncritically accept and those who categorically reject traditional Catholic teachings about sexual morality seem all too eager to claim an abortion linkage to make their case.

I am delighted that youth seem to be able to see through this ruse and discern critical distinctions between sexual behavior and fetal death.