Same-Sex Marriage and the Voice of Nature

When America’s pro-abortion forces won their great victory of January 1973 — the Roe v. Wade ruling of the United States Supreme Court — they were not surprised to see that religious and moral conservatives were immediately outraged. Similarly, white supremacists were immediately outraged when the Court handed down its Brown v. Board of Education decision of May 1954, declaring that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. It is only natural that unprogressive persons who are strongly attached to out-of-date views will react with shock when the progressive forces of society (in these two cases, the Supreme Court) authoritatively reject these views and, in effect, tell everybody to move on to a newer and brighter day.
But — as the pro-abortion folks noticed — the Brown ruling had served as a powerful educational force. The initial “massive resistance” to racial integration in the South had gradually faded away, and by 1973, 19 years after Brown, diehard segregationists had grown more and more quiet, and many more had grown old and died. Public opinion, even in the South, was increasingly sympathetic to the idea of racial equality. Looking back to 1954, we could see that Brown was a transformational moment in American history — a transformation for the good.

Couldn’t something similar be expected in the case of abortion? At first, the moral-religious conservatives (e.g., the Roman Catholic hierarchy) were fit to be tied, and they threatened to add a Human Life Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. But pro-abortion types thought that nothing would come of such reactionary moves, and eventually the voices of opposition to abortion would fade away: Eventually, as in the case of racial segregation, almost everybody will come to agree with the wisdom of the Court. Americans generally will come to see that the right to abortion, like the right to racial equality, is a fundamental human right. That’s not to say that everybody will feel that abortion is morally right for herself. But everybody (well, almost everybody) will feel that the choice to have or not to have an abortion is the choice an individual — not the government — should make.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this universal acceptance of abortion: It never happened. Thirty-seven years after Roe, there is still nothing even close to universal acceptance. If anything, the opponents of abortion are more opposed than ever. Unlike the segregationists, they didn’t simply fade away.
Why is this? Is it because the prejudices of the pro-lifers are stronger than the prejudices of the old segregationists? Not likely, since it would be hard to have stronger prejudices than the old segregationists had. No, the difference is that the white supremacy position was morally wrong while the pro-life position is morally right, and human beings are capable, at least in the long run, of seeing the difference between right and wrong. The segregation movement is dead, while the pro-life movement is thriving. You could give up being a segregationist when you saw that segregation was wrong, but you can’t give up the pro-life movement for that reason.
Similar considerations apply to the gay-rights movement and same-sex marriage. Some in the gay-rights movement are looking forward to the day when a liberal Democratic president and a liberal Democratic Senate will have assigned the Supreme Court at least five justices who will be sympathetic to the argument that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by some “penumbra” of the U.S. Constitution. This may be a few years off, however. In the meantime, activists may feel that the “tides of history” are moving their way. As Americans grow more enlightened and hence more tolerant, as the older generation of homophobes dies off and a younger generation takes over, and as old-fashioned forms of Christianity fade in significance, it is inevitable that gay marriage will be legalized across the country. Perhaps this will happen on a state-by-state basis, either through state legislatures or through state supreme courts; or perhaps it will happen because the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize a universal right to the institution. But it hardly matters which path is followed, for same-sex marriage is the “wave of the future.” Like it or not, it’s coming.
This optimism on the part of gay-marriage proponents is, I suggest, premature, just as the optimism of the right-to-abortion proponents was premature. The voice of conscience stood in the way of universal acceptance of abortion, and a similar voice will stand in the way of acceptance of gay marriage. This latter voice is perhaps better described as the “voice of nature” than as the voice of conscience. The gay-rights movement and moral liberals generally believe that “prejudice” against homosexuality (homophobia, as they like to call it) is, like racial prejudice, something people learn when growing up; and, like racial prejudice, it can be eradicated by giving people a different kind of growing-up experience. “You have to be taught to hate,” as the old song goes — so don’t teach kids to be homophobic. In fact, teach them the opposite, and when they grow up they will be great supporters of same-sex marriage.
But I’m not so sure. I strongly suspect (and, of course, I will be accused of homophobia for harboring this politically incorrect suspicion) that there is a voice of nature telling us that homosexual conduct is unnatural and that same-sex marriage is perhaps doubly so. It may be that moral liberals, because of their growing-up experiences, have been able to ignore this voice of nature in themselves, but it is still speaking to most people. Many of us are embarrassed by this voice, since society today tells us that there is no such thing, or that what we mistake for conscience or the voice of nature is nothing more than homophobia.
But if there is such a voice of nature — and I think there is — then the proponents of gay marriage had better not count their wave-of-the-future chickens.


  • David R. Carlin Jr.

    David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include “Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion” and “The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.” Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

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