There’s been a lot of legislative and judicial action lately that has brought the issues of gay marriage and abortion back to the forefront of American politics and the public conscience. And it seems to me that the two have been incorrectly conflated.
It makes sense. Liberals want gay marriage and abortion legal, conservatives don’t, or at least that’s the summary. You’re on one side or the other. The problem is this heads-or-tails attitude confuses the nature of the two arguments, at least as I see it.
Let’s start with gay marriage. People tend to get bent out of shape principally because the word “marriage” is being used, a word that has bound up in it all kinds of social expectations. But what’s really at play in the governmental setting? It’s not the loving, lifelong commitment of two people to one another (what “marriage” traditionally means, and the attitude most people associate with it). It’s legal status. It’s got everything to do with taxation and co-ownership of material possessions and inheritance, and very little to do with love (again, speaking from a strictly legal point of view). We’re using one word to mean two very different things.
I’m probably going to take some flak for this next statement from people who don’t bother to read on, but I think it’s important to lay this out to illustrate exactly what I mean. I am of the opinion, for reasons which are immaterial to this discussion, that a sexual relationship with someone of your own gender isn’t healthy. I think gay relationships, including gay marriages (here used in the sense of personal commitment, not legal status), aren’t a good idea in the same way that some people think all marriages aren’t a good idea. Some people won’t touch a cigarette; others like to smoke. With me so far?
On the other hand, I think people should be able to smoke if they want to. A free society is worth that. Likewise, I believe that homosexual couples who consider themselves married should be able to take advantage of all the legal boons and responsibilities we offer to heterosexual couples. Calling that legal commitment a “marriage license” might not be the smartest idea we’ve ever had because of the very connotations it invites, but if that’s what we’re going to call it, so be it. At any rate, it should be something that’s difficult to enter and difficult to break because of the legal complexities it involves.
So, I support gay marriage in the context of the legal battle for equal protection under the law.
But what about abortion? This is a much trickier issue, one that clearly depends on the question of when life begins. We don’t permit late-term abortions. So when is a human a human? When, essentially, does the issue stop being about merely an individual’s right to do with her own body what they will (so long as it doesn’t burden or endanger others, of course; we have laws controlling drug use for a reason), and become one about defending human life, something we’re generally pretty sure is a good idea.
And that, in a nutshell, is the entire ballgame. Unlike gay marriage, abortion isn’t just about guaranteeing equal protection under the law. I mean, it is about protection under the law, but it’s predicated on a moral question that’s difficult to answer definitively. Look, I can’t say definitively when a human life begins. But again, that’s just it. I can’t say. And in case it begins at conception, generally agreed as the first point where the line could be (be passive, and it will definitively become a human if it’s not already, not just some cancerous mass), I cannot support abortion at any point other than as a last resort to protect the life of the mother because I adamantly believe we should not use lethal force outside of life and death situations. I will defend the rights of the voiceless. (As a side note, can we please agree that in the same way that people who are “pro-choice” are not necessarily pro-abortion, people who are “pro-life” are not necessarily anti-woman?)(As another side note, I think that active/passive thing is a pretty important point that tends to get glossed over in this debate. It takes action to create human life, and it takes action to take it away, even if that action is the natural deterioration of a human body.)
So there you have it. The issues of gay marriage and abortion are different in kind, not just name. Can we please stop mis-associating support of one with support of the other?
Please note that while I welcome a lively discussion in the comments, I will not approve any comment that is hateful or aggressive. Let’s have a conversation, not a flame war.