Sunday, November 23, 2008

Marriage, Abortion and Gays! Oh My!

I can sympathize with the revulsion some might feel toward the so-called religious right. Though I agree with the moral concerns of values voters and their right to express them in the political arena, the zeal with which the message is conveyed (by some, not all) often drowns out the mercy and compassion that are also supposed to be part of their message. I fully agree with them that abortion and homosexuality are egregious sins. But then again, so are heterosexual adultery and fornication, groundless divorce and other forms of spousal abandonment, cheating on your income tax and other forms of theft, all forms of deceit ranging from simple lies to full scale perjury, harsh words spoken in anger, and (last, but certainly not least) hypocrisy, pride or self-righteous attitudes toward those who practice any of the above. All these and countless other unlisted evils are equally effective at evoking divine displeasure. And all of them are equally forgivable where there is genuine remorse and a desire to change.

Perhaps the reasons some sins (I apologize if that term is offensive to you, but I can’t think of a better one) seem more egregious than others is the severity of their earthly consequences, both individually and to society. Abortion and homosexuality in particular, once accepted as normative behavior, have the potential of setting the society down a slippery slope.


I suppose the problem of unwanted pregnancies has been around for millennia, as has the moral quandary created over the idea of terminating a pregnancy, hence the reason the Hippocratic oath (4th century BC) included the following: “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.” (My inclusion of the entire sentence, which also prohibits assisted suicide, was deliberate, because it speaks to the broader issue of human life.)

Outside the common religious faiths which insist on the sanctity of human life, the inalienable right to life in society has been explicitly enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, and also implied in the due process clause of the 14th amendment of the Constitution: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (There is similar language in the 5th amendment.) Back when Roe v. Wade was being argued prior to 1973, the proponents of abortion rights had to somehow get around this clause, and the only way to do so was to somehow redefine personhood. The Roe v. Wade decision went through a number of contortions to achieve this end. In addition to some questionable historical revisionism with regard to ancient and more recent historical attitudes toward abortion, they also concentrated on the vague notion of when a fetus is “viable”. Without any basis other than “this sounds good to me”, Justice Blackman came up with the following:

Though the State cannot override [a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy], it has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a “compelling” point at various stages of the woman’s approach to term.

Blackman’s opinion then proceeded to delineate that the state has no right whatsoever to proscribe abortion in the first trimester but…

…may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. … For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
It was all very deliberately vague. Since then, of course, medical science has not only moved “viability” to much earlier stages of gestation, but has also given us tremendous insight into early fetal development and the unmistakable unique personhood of the child in the womb, even from conception. But none of that matters anymore, because the “Pandora’s box” has already been opened. Once the premise of abortion is accepted, the slide down the slippery slope is inevitable. We essentially have abortion on demand throughout all stages of pregnancy, regardless of viability. It wasn’t long before “reasonable” voices were starting to suggest there should be a three day grace period after birth to make sure there were no defects that would make the new life too burdensome. And, of course, once our view of life is so cheapened, it is much easier to talk about “quality of life” for the elderly, the infirm, those with mental or physical handicaps, the acceptability of assisted suicide, etc. (On a separate issue, I shudder to think if we ever pass nationalized health care, which will inevitably end up costing too much money and will force the state to make decisions as to who will and will not receive health care, followed by decisions as to who will or will not live.)

The downward slide is further evidenced by the vehement and visceral reaction against any attempt to halt or reverse it. How else to explain the opposition to common sense laws mandating parental consent before a minor can obtain an abortion? Parental consent is required before a minor can even get an aspirin from the school nurse, but God forbid we should invade her privacy by requiring it before a minor can get an abortion or even birth control. The most telling example is opposition to laws proscribing late-term or “partial birth” abortion. Anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty has to agree that to induce labor and deliver a near-full term baby just far enough to allow the doctor to pierce its skull with a pair of scissors is murder, pure and simple, which is why there is overwhelming support for laws banning this hideous procedure. Yet President Clinton was applauded by the abortion rights crowd for vetoing the bill. On what basis did he veto it? Supposedly he wanted an exception for “the life and health of the mother,” which of course is a red herring, because there is simply no circumstance whatsoever at that stage where the life and health of the mother would be endangered by delivering the baby and allowing it to live.

My own theory behind the resistance to such common sense laws is that the supporters of abortion rights are terrified at the obvious implications. They know the science and they know the logic: If it is indeed immoral and thus declared unlawful to pull a near term baby out of the womb in order to kill it, why should it not be unlawful to do so with an almost equally viable baby at six or seven months? What about a second trimester baby? And what is the difference between a second trimester and a first trimester fetus, other than time and nutrition? Passing such a law would cause people to start to consider the questions and moral concerns that we have been suppressing for years, and we just can’t have that, can we? I suggest this is the same reason that then State Senator Barack Obama did not support an Illinois law requiring the presence of a second doctor during a late term abortion. The purpose of the second doctor was to provide medical care just in case something went terribly “wrong” and the baby actually lived. We can’t have that either!


The trajectory of attitudes toward homosexuality throughout history has been remarkably similar to that pertaining to abortion. It too has been around and debated for millenia. It has been generally frowned upon and at best tolerated by societies as aberrant and deviant behavior, yet in some societies it has gained increasing acceptability. As with the issue of abortion, the increasing acceptability of homosexuality represents a slide down the slippery slope.

It wasn’t long ago that most states in the union actually had laws proscribing homosexual behavior. Of course such laws were largely unenforceable, and most law enforcement authorities had neither the stomach nor the interest of even trying. But the laws at least served the purpose of making a statement as to what constituted acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the sexual realm. Those with homosexual tendencies generally hid or tried to suppress their sexual preferences. The few who were known or discovered to be homosexuals were scorned, but more enlightened people in society tried to show them compassion. But as our society has continued its moral slide in a number of arenas, including sexual mores, some homosexuals wanted more than compassion. They started “coming out of the closet” and openly declaring their sexual preference, defying anyone who would dare disapprove, and inviting other homosexuals to do likewise. The next step was to challenge state anti-sodomy laws, and they were successful, thanks to a predictably sympathetic Supreme Court which (as they did in Roe vs. Wade) went through the necessary legal and historical contortions to make the Constitution say what they wanted it to say.

Not content with compassion or even with the abolition of laws proscribing their behavior, the homosexual community started insisting on rights, which of course they already had. They enjoy the equal protection of the laws and they cannot be discriminated against based on their sexual preferences. But to secure more rights, they had to somehow define themselves not by their behavior, but by who they are. They had to convince society to accept the idea that they cannot help being who they are, that their behavior is not so much a free choice, nor even an environmentally or socially induced proclivity that can be suppressed or unlearned, but rather a hereditary trait akin to race or skin color. Incredibly, they have started to succeed, despite the fact that there is not a shred of scientific evidence indicating that homosexuality is inherited. If there were ever such a thing as a homosexual gene, I would venture to guess it would have been eliminated from the gene pool millennia ago, because it stands to reason that homosexuals aren’t too successful at reproducing.

So what is next? Now homosexuals want the right to marry.


Alas, it has become increasingly difficult to argue against gay marriage, one reason being that we as a society have made such a mockery of marriage in general. Divorce is rampant, and multiple marriages are all too common. Many prefer to not bother with marriage and instead choose to live together. And the statistics among professing Christians are not much better (if at all) than for society at large.

The sacredness of marriage was and is reflected by its celebration as a religious sacrament. The history of government’s role in the institution is probably two fold: 1) it goes back to times and societies when the line between church and state was blurred, for better or for worse (usually worse); 2) governments and societies have recognized their compelling interest in promoting and preserving marriage as a means of fostering healthy family units as part of a well ordered society. It also protected women and children from abandonment.

The state’s compelling interest in preserving marriage and the family used to be reflected in how difficult it once was to obtain a divorce. Before the advent of “no-fault” divorce laws, there had to be a compelling reason to justify a divorce. If the sanctity of marriage vows was not sufficient to keep struggling couples from parting ways, the extra layers of social opprobrium and legal impediments against an easy divorce often preserved the union. Now those safety nets are largely non-existent, and marriage from a governmental point of view has been reduced to nothing more than a contract, similar to a limited partnership or an S-corporation, which is easily dissolved upon request of one or both parties. How sad!

It is this sad state of affairs that makes it difficult to argue against gay marriage. But homosexuals are already permitted to have civil unions and I quite frankly fail to see the difference from a legal point of view. Unless of course, as the slide down the slope continues, their next step will be to start suing churches for refusing to marry them on moral grounds. Preposterous, you say? I wouldn’t put anything past our increasingly decadent society.

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After having spent several pages outlining these moral concerns, I feel compelled to restate that it is not my right nor anyone else’s to wag the finger of judgment against anyone who has had an abortion or who practices homosexuality or whose marriage has failed. If you fall into any of these categories, my heart goes out to you. And God knows, I have my own sins to deal with.

For individuals, there is always hope for forgiveness and change. But when societies as a whole continue to approve, protect and promote ever increasing levels of immoral behavior, the situation is much more frightening, as our ever declining moral standards threaten to unravel our social fabric. Some of the greatest empires of history eventually fell under the weight of their moral decay. Are we so arrogant to think that the United States of America will be an exception?

In the meantime, the slide continues. God have mercy on us all.

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