A couple days ago I mentioned the evangelical Christian focus on the issues of abortion and gay rights. I actually think this is changing, especially as even conservatives become more disillusioned with President Bush. We can see evidence for this in the recent rebuke of the National Association of Evangelicals by Dr. Dobson and other evangelical leaders for distracting people's attention from "the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children," by talking about global warming as also being of great importance.
However, I think there is an interesting contrast between these issues. Abortion has been legal for over thirty years in the U.S. (and for many more years in some states). But yet it is as divisive an issue today as it was when Roe v. Wade was ruled on. Unlike with Brown, the court's decision in 1973 did not lead to a consensus among Americans of the morality of legalizing reproductive freedom. There are doubtless many reasons for this, but at least one is the existence of respectable philosophical and political arguments supporting bans on late stage abortions. Thus, philosophers have continued writing important articles and books arguing about abortion whereas segregation is basically a dead issue--you will find no serious politician explicitly supporting old-school segregation.
I think gay rights is different. I'm not familiar with any argument against (for instance) gay marriage that is taken seriously by philosophers or other political thinkers.* Thus, the main impediments to granting equal rights to the gay community are social in nature.** Social attitudes take time to change, but they are also much more susceptible to top-down change--such as through court or legislative decisions. Because these beliefs are not based on political principles, but social prejudice, one of the best ways of convincing people to change their minds is to legitimize the full personhood of homosexuals by allowing them to engage in the normal activities of society--things such as marriage, youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts, disallowing employer discrimination, etc. In the same way that desegregation forces people to interact in normal, everyday ways with the people that were formerly stereotyped or feared, and so generally works to lessen those stereotypes and fears, it would seem that the more political legitimacy homosexuals achieve the less people will be able to maintain the sort of prejudices they currently hold.
*Of course there are a number of arguments made against gay rights on the basis of religious commitments, which might superficially make it appear to be similar to the abortion issue. However, I think people forget that many of the strongest opponents of desegregation, and even more obviously, equal rights for women, came from the clergy or based their views on religious grounds. But these movements were successful in part (at least legislatively) because the philosophical assumptions of both liberals and conservatives assumed equality for all persons, and so made it very difficult to justify the discriminatory practices that the civil rights movement and feminism were fighting against.
Also, I tend to think that people overestimate the direct influence of religion in the abortion debate. The Bible actually has very little to say about the conditions for personhood or at what stage that status is achieved. It is much more clearly misogynistic in ways that most Christians would today reject. It seems to me that the relationship between abortion and religion is very complex, and that while religion is a major reason why many Christians (especially Catholics) view abortion as immoral, the further arguments attempting to also show why we should outlaw it are not necessarily so explicitly religious in nature.
**Of course, if someone does have an argument against gay marriage not explicitly based on religious beliefs, or if they can explain why in a liberal democracy like the U.S. I should pay attention in this way to their religious beliefs, I would be interested in hearing it. And I mean this seriously, as it is distressing that so many people don't believe in something that seems so blindingly obvious to me as gay marriage, and more generally, equal rights for homosexuals.
Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things
- ▼ April (10)