(Click on the logo to return to the main blog.)

Fetuses and Gays, United in Their Struggle for Civil Rights

I sort of shrugged and went "Hmm" when I read the following from Ramesh Ponnuru in the Corner:

The op-ed made me wonder something I have wondered in the past: whether the pro-life cause will be stronger once it is divested from opposition to gay rights; whether, that is, opposition to abortion will lose some of the negative connotations of social conservatism and become more obviously a campaign for civil rights.

It struck me as a slightly peculiar notion for which I should keep an eye out in the future. However, Mr. Ponnuru just posted an email that has given me cause to take up the question now:

A thousand times yes! It's a theme a pro-life/pro-gay marriage conservative will need to develop, but this observation strikes me as on the money. Of course, I'm one of those who fits the description. I think being the (real or perceived) anti-gay attitudes of many conservatives makes it far more difficult for the pro-life argument to get a hearing, particularly in places like here in Manhattan. And in some ways I don't blame those who make the connection - I see the issue in both cases as one of civil rights.

I can fully appreciate that those people, however many there may be, who are pro-life/pro-SSM might perceive their support for gay marriage as a major barrier to full activistic unity with other pro-lifers, but is this really framing the debate across the divide? In other words, are there pro-abortion folks for whom conservative opposition to gay marriage is the deciding factor determining that a fetus is not a human being worthy of protection?

From a pro-life standpoint, the two issues are only related by way of a general moral platform tending to originate from a religious basis. At their most connected, I'd say, both stances are determined according to the rightful claims of children to place responsibilities on adults: to live with the "burden" of giving birth to and raising children who were not planned, in the one case, and to foster a society in which children are more likely to be raised within families consisting of their two biological parents bound by marriage, in the other. But this connection, to the extent that it exists, is a few steps beyond the reasoning done by most who hold both positions.

The connection between the two issues is much more centrally and obviously made from the other side, having to do with the supremacy of the individual. A woman has a right to determine the nature and consequences of her sexual behavior, including the right to abort unwanted children, in the one case, and two people have a right to demand public approval of their sexual relationship, including the right to disregard simple and obvious definitions of public arrangements, in the other.

In all of my arguing and reading around the issue of abortion, I have never encountered even the hint that the other side was shutting out the pro-life arguments because their advocates held other socially conservative views. Moreover, by every measure that I can think of, it seems far more likely that the weight goes in the other direction, with opposition to gay marriage being written off on the basis of its related social conservatism, primarily being pro-life. After all, many more liberal Manhattanites are personally affected by abortion policy than by gay marriage.

Yes, I would say that it will be good for the pro-life cause when social liberals stop seeing abortion as just a position that they must hold to be comme il faut — unlike those fundamentalists in the wilds of the nation. But no, I don't think social conservatives are going to further the pro-life cause by surrendering the gay marriage issue. Rather, were they to do so, I think they would set back their cause by furthering the argument that an individual's "choice" and transitory happiness are the single guiding principle of a "civilized" society.

I just want to offer a note, here, that I am increasingly worried — and offended — by the attenuation of "civil rights" into a catch-all concept. It was bad enough when Andrew Sullivan was uniting the push for gay marriage with the battles against anti-Semitism (manifested the Holocaust) and racism (manifested in slavery and enforced segregation).

Am I alone in finding it disturbing that some are now suggesting that the movement to prevent young human beings from being clinically murdered will gain a new relevance when it can be compared with the movement to grant a relatively well-to-do class of people a right that has never been thought to exist in the history of man, very probably at the cost of a basic social institution? I hope not.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:06 PM EST

1 Comment

Just thought I'd mention, the addendum is the best, most focused part of this post.

Joe Marier @ 11/26/2003 07:54 PM EST