The United States has evolved with each passing generation. The recent debates surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage have some parallels to the abortion debate that has raged in the country for over 40 years. However, the millenial generation's overwhelmingly accepting attitude toward same-sex marriage differs sharply from its views on abortion. Whereas millennials have been accepting of societal changes on the marriage front, they show a clear division over the abortion issue.Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court in 1973 that paved the way for federal recognition of abortion as a legal practice, was certainly controversial. Many Americans were in opposition to this decision for many reasons. In the oral arguments presented during the trial, the defense argued that abortion was unethical and against the traditions and values fundamental to the United States. Questions pertinent to the constitutional rights of a fetus were a highlight of the trial.
Ultimately, Roe v. Wade was decided in favor of the extension of abortion rights. Subsequent cases followed that further defined abortion law. Roe v. Wade is now hailed as one the most controversial Supreme Court rulings of the past century. For years, the left and right have argued over abortion laws. The March for Life demonstration is held every year on January 22nd and brings groups from around the country together in protest of the Roe decision. Likewise, support for Planned Parenthood and other family planning services are prevalent with T-shirts, shirt pins, and bumper stickers.
While the abortion debate raged on, however, the defining moral issue of our generation became same-sex marriage. Until recently, same-sex marriage was illegal throughout the world. It was not until 2000 that the Netherlands became the first nation to legalize the practice. It is thus a very new major debate on the global scene.
While 13 states in America have since adopted laws to favor same-sex couples, the landmark Supreme Court case U.S. v. Windsor has promoted more rights for same-sex couples by striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that it it denies federal benefits to same-sex couples and thus violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendment. This decision has already sparked several debates, particularly in California, and will continue to influence American policy in the future. Similar to Roe, as it has created a legal framework on which future legal issues pertinent to the issue of gay marriage will be based.
The division that exists within the abortion debate is clear, as many continue to oppose the practice today. Religious Americans often oppose the practice on moral grounds. Some fundamentalists argued against it on technical grounds during Roe. They believe that if Roe was wrongly decided, all subsequent rulings are falsely based. On the other side of the debate, many pro-choice people hold the belief that abortion is an individual liberty. Others see practical reasons for abortion. Yet what we can garner is that the debate has valid arguments to be made on each side. It is truly an intellectual inquiry.
Gay marriage seems more straightforward, and more likely to capture the attention of the millenials in the next decade. Since 2003, 13 states have worked to protect legal rights for same-sex couples. While respect for of gay rights is prevalent in our culture, dissent is not as widespread (although there are certainly cases of discrimination that cannot be dismissed). Much of the youth has accepted gay marriage as a necessary function to protect individual freedoms. Some religious institutions have softened their rhetoric on gay marriage, as well, and President Obama, whose presidency was made possible the millenials, has made legalization of same-sex marriage a key policy goal of his second term. It is reasonable to assume that President Obama’s power to persuade has helped to make gay marriage acceptable to the millenial generation.
We will continue to see policy changes that favor gay marriage, as there is currently not a major movement against it. Young liberals and libertarians of today see gay rights as fundamental to preserve liberty. Conservatives have seemingly not crusaded against gay rights as they did against abortion in the past.
Finally, there are a plethora of good arguments to be made against abortion, yet those who oppose gay marriage today do not seem to have any major reasons to offer except for ethical concerns. It is difficult to find an argument on constitutional grounds that allows for active discrimination against a group of people. It is the millenial liberals and libertarians, a sizable population, who will continue to support a path that preserves individual liberties and freedoms while slowly disposing of the old order.