Last week Mark Shea said that while he's happy to see that some (presumably religious) Democrats are leaving the party over the issues of the HHS mandate and gay "marriage," he's a bit surprised that it's taken them this long, given that they put up with the whole pro-abortion thing all this time.
I commented over there, but have been continuing to think about this, and have decided to turn my expanded thoughts into a post. (Recycling is good, right?)
Many years ago Catholic Democrats decided that they could continue to be enthusiastic supporters of the Party of Abortion so long as they created a sort of moral dodge around the issue: the "personally opposed, but..." dodge that we're all familiar with. The idea is simple, and is reiterated by Catholic Democratic politicians all the time--it goes like this: As a Catholic, I accept my Church's teaching that abortion is morally wrong. I would never personally have (or ask my wife to have, etc.) an abortion. But America is a secular and pluralistic nation, and we simply can't impose our Catholic understanding of morality on those who disagree.
In point of fact, the "personally opposed, but..." dodge is rather a bit of incoherent moral nonsense, as can be easily demonstrated by substitution. For example, no one would say, "I'm personally opposed to slavery, but I can't impose my morality on those who wish to own slaves," or "I'm personally opposed to rape, but I can't impose my morality on those who wish to rape," etc. Nor does the "personally opposed" dodge work well from the pro-abortion point of view: if there's nothing wrong with abortion, and if it is really no more morally significant than the removal of a kidney stone or one's appendix, then why would anyone be opposed to it, personally or otherwise? And if there is something wrong with abortion that requires one's personal opposition, what exactly is that? A serious "pro-choice" person who tries to answer this question will quickly find himself without a "personally opposed, but..." left to stand (sit?) on.
Despite those problems, though, the "personally opposed, but..." dodge has been a way for left-wing Catholics to ease their consciences or at least pacify the churchgoers on the abortion issue. They may be pro-choice, but they're emphatically not pro-abortion! No, sir. They see abortion as something vaguely evil, though it's best not to ask them why. They'd never have one (or want their wives or daughters to have one, etc.). But in our secular nation, and given how much more important economic issues, war and peace issues, etc. are than concerns about the negligible million or so Americans disappeared by abortion every year, why, they have to belong to and support the Party of Abortion and vote for pro-choice candidates and abortion funding initiatives and so on. Because the alternative is just plain unthinkable.
And the rank and file Catholic Democrats went along with their "personally opposed, but..." politicians and agreed that while abortion may be terrible, the right-wing GOP clinic bombing abortion protesters were tons worse, and that it's better to swallow this one tiny matter than desert the party of JFK over a little thing like abortion.
But now, as the article Mark Shea linked to pointed out, that uneasy compromise of religious Democrats (especially Catholic Democrats) on social issues like abortion may be starting to unravel. Democrats who parroted the "personally opposed, but..." line for years on abortion are drifting away from the party over things like the party's strong support for gay "marriage." And I think that this isn't really so hard to understand.
Try to imagine a conversation in which a Catholic Democrat says to a secular Democrat that he is personally opposed to gay "marriage," that he accepts Catholic Church teaching which says that homosexual sex acts are intrinsically and gravely morally evil and that children are entitled to a mother and a father, and that thus he can't get on board and work with the party to pass gay "marriage" laws in all fifty states. However, he says, he's "pro-choice" on gay marriage in that he is willing to live and let live, to respect that other Democrats are committed to legalizing gay "marriage," so long as his own deep personal opposition to gay marriage and his belief that it is fundamentally evil is respected. How long do you think such a Catholic Democrat would last in his local party organization?
The truth is, the idea that you can be "pro-choice" about things that you know to be evil is, and always has been, an illusion. To the extent that this faux compromise has "worked" regarding the abortion issue, it has done so because unlike gay "marriage," abortion is not a public act. Teachers are not required to teach in classrooms that having an abortion is exactly like giving birth, outcomes and all; co-workers are not pressured to go from Jill's baby shower to Jane's abortion shower (in which Jane is given "still not a mom!" gifts and applauded just as much for killing her unborn offspring as Jill is for having the baby); and no one is threatening to force the Catholic Church or any other church to offer post-abortion proxy baptisms in which plastic baby dolls represent the dead child and the mother is praised for having made the wise and compassionate decision to abort the baby for his or her own presumable good.
None of that is true regarding gay "marriage," which is, as I said, an intentionally public act. It is not about what people are doing in the privacy of their own homes, but about the public recognition gay couples want to be told that their sterile unions centered around intrinsically immoral sex acts are exactly like heterosexual marriage with its gender differentiation, male/female dynamic, chaste sexual consummation, and, for the vast majority, procreative potential. And gay couples don't merely demand that society be structured and act in ways that affirm this absurd notion, but that those who refuse to do so be punished for their "bigotry."
The bottom line is that neither Catholic Democrats nor any other religious Democrats will retain their right to be personally opposed to gay "marriage." You can't be "pro-choice" on gay "marriage," because to imply in the tiniest way that you think that two men having sex with each other or two women having sex with each other isn't the same thing as a marriage is to be tagged with the "bigot" label, marginalized, and excluded from further consideration. You have to approve of gay "marriage" and be ready to celebrate it, to insist that kindergartners be taught that having two mommies is way awesomer than having a mom and a dad, to demand that fifth-graders learn how to perform same-sex oral and anal sex acts correctly in their sex ed. classes along with all that dull stuff about human reproduction, and to force on society the notion that any objection to homosexual sex acts from a moral perspective is nothing but a throwback to the bad old days when people thought that shellfish and mixed fabrics were evil, too.
No, Catholic Democrats, you won't be allowed to be merely "pro-choice" on gay "marriage." As Mark Shea would put it, you MUST approve. Or be ready to face the consequences.