Pro-​​life and pro–gay-marriage?

Eve Tushnet, a celi­bate, les­bian Catholic, points out that “there are strong indi­ca­tions that young adults increas­ingly sup­port gay mar­riage, and weaker indi­ca­tions that they are increas­ingly pro-​​life.” She says the (slight) increase in pro-​​life sup­port comes from see­ing fetuses in sono­grams. Similarly, gay mar­riage sup­port comes from know­ing gay peo­ple. Familiarly leads young adults view the issues as ques­tions of fair­ness. Young adults can see them­selves in the fetus or the gay per­son, so they don’t want to treat them differently.

But, Tushnet argues, the sup­port for these “con­tra­dic­tory” posi­tions has a weak basis. Pro-​​life posi­tions are only safe when Roe v. Wade keeps abor­tion restric­tions to things like parental noti­fi­ca­tion and wait­ing peri­ods. Take away Roe, and hor­ror sto­ries about ille­gal abor­tions win.

Gay-​​marriage sup­port is shal­low for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. That sup­port comes from the idea that gays are the same as straights, but

[t]he norms and cul­ture of mar­riage arose to meet the needs of het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples: to min­i­mize the dam­age of unreg­u­lated inter­course and max­i­mize the great social good of chil­drea­r­ing within the nat­ural family.

I have to dis­agree. Marriage has been many dif­fer­ent things. Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History, showed that prop­erty and power were the main ratio­nales for mar­riage for most of his­tory. It was only a cou­ple cen­turies ago that love became impor­tant for mar­riage. Now, love has elim­i­nated the other ratio­nales for mar­riage. You can argue whether that’s good or bad—I think it’s bad or maybe neu­tral, Coontz thinks it’s good. But it means that today peo­ple don’t get mar­ried to reg­u­late inter­course (Let’s just call it sex?) or to ensure chil­drea­r­ing within a nat­ural fam­ily. Expanding mar­riage to include lov­ing gay cou­ples makes sense when gay love is equal to straight love. If that’s the equa­tion, gay mar­riage should win. (And that’s why it is winning.)

But that doesn’t mean I think Tushnet is all wrong. To the con­trary: it’s dandy for love to be such an impor­tant thing in mar­riage, but that means that the sex-​​regulation and the chil­drea­r­ing get shoved out to No Man’s Land. There’s no short­age of advice on sex or chil­drea­r­ing, but we no longer have an insti­tu­tion that auto­mat­i­cally trig­gers new sets of oblig­a­tions and respon­si­bil­i­ties. Maybe it’s time for a new insti­tu­tion? But of course, new soci­etal insti­tu­tions develop organ­i­cally, so you can’t just order one up on your Social Planning App.