To my mind, it has always seemed perfectly consistent to support gay marriage but oppose abortion. I don’t personally agree with the distinction at the heart of this dichotomy, but it’s still a pretty rational one: You can support gay marriage because you believe in the dignity and equality of all human life—and oppose abortion for the same stated reasons. Besides, married gay couples will very rarely need abortions, whereas gay people pressured into straight relationships can and do. For the anti-abortion crowd, gay marriage should be a win-win.
On Thursday, however, Carson Holloway of the archly conservative Witherspoon Institute penned a firm counterpoint to my assumption, proclaiming an unbreakable link between opposition to both abortion and gay marriage. Holloway’s argument is admirably simple. The constitutional right to abortion is based on a modern interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and so is the constitutional right of gay people to marry. According to Holloway, then, opposing the right to abortion necessarily means opposing the right to gay marriage. The two issues, as Justice Antonin Scalia might put it, “spring forth from the same diseased root”—an equality-minded interpretation of an opaque yet expansive text. They thus cannot logically be severed.
If every American’s support for gay rights sprang directly and exclusively from their personal interpretation of the 14th Amendment, then I guess Holloway would be correct. But of course, support for marriage equality goes far beyond constitutional exegesis: It is entirely possible to support gay marriage in principle without believing that the constitution commands its legalization nationwide. Even President Barack Obama seemed to strike this pose when he first endorsed marriage equality, though he has since quietly abandoned it.
Holloway ignores this counterpoint entirely, insisting instead that gay marriage and abortion are intrinsically linked due to this single fairly arbitrary connection. In his polemic, he claims that “[t]he Republican Party cannot surrender the cause of marriage … without also in practice surrendering the cause of life,” because “a Republican Party that gives up the fight against judicial activism in order to make peace with same-sex marriage will also be surrendering the fight for a constitutional order more protective of the right to life.” But if you remove the judicial activism component from this equation—by, for instance, supporting gay marriage by referendum or legislation, exclusively on the state level—then the whole edifice crumbles.
That tenuousness is so obvious that I have to believe Holloway recognizes it. Why, then, is it so important to him to link gay marriage and abortion, even by the most attenuated and fallacious means? Most likely because he can read the tea leaves: While Christian support of marriage equality is spiraling upward, Christian views on abortion have basically held steady over the decades. Tethering the former to the latter just might help to halt gay marriage’s meteoric rise in the polls.
But it won’t be easy linking pictures of happy couples in wedded bliss with disturbing images of aborted fetuses in the popular mindset. A vague gesture toward the evils of “judicial activism” certainly won’t do it, as Holloway’s failed attempt painfully illustrates—nor will an entreaty to blindly follow messages of hate promulgated by certain leaders within the church. By this point, enough Christians publicly support marriage equality to put a dent in conservative Christians’ asserted monopoly on the topic. And for younger Christians who refuse to accept anti-gay animus as a fundamental tenet of their faith, support for the dignity of gay people seems obviously compatible with support for the dignity of unborn children.
That’s Holloway’s real problem: Not that gay marriage and abortion are unrelated, but that opposition to abortion can logically lead to support for gay marriage. If you believe that fetuses are people, and you believe all people deserve the same liberty and equality, then you have every reason in the world to champion gay rights while striving to roll back Roe v. Wade. Every day, more and more young Christians are coming to this realization. I understand why Holloway wants to halt that progress. But I’m afraid his frail and hollow arguments will do nothing to change young Americans’ minds.