Conservatives Declare Victory On Abortion, Defeat On Gay Marriage

Speaking to a Christian magazine, Jim Daly, the CEO of Focus on the Family recently conceded that when it comes to the culture wars, you win some, you lose some. And he's probably right.

From the interview:

[Q:] We're winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage? [A:] We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

That winning on abortion "in theory" depends on how you look at the facts. On the one hand, abortions are still performed legally in the United States — twenty-two percent of pregnancies end in induced abortion, and gay marriage is only legal in a handful of states. But it's a question of momentum. Across the U.S. social conservatives have made steady progress in making abortions as difficult and stressful to access as possible, while major shifts in public opinion about gay marriage do not bode well for bigots.


Legislatively speaking, anti-choicers have largely succeeded through an incremental strategy, in which each particular stricture sounds reasonable enough to a moderate but has a cumulative chilling effect. Later abortion bans? Well, why are you ladies so keen to abort that late anyway? You should have gotten your act together. Forced ultrasounds? Just giving women information! Waiting periods? It's just a couple of days. While the abortion debate hinges on a fundamental disconnect between those who see it as an issue of female bodily autonomy and medical access, and those who see it as murder, gay marriage has an easier road.

After all, once gay people increasingly normalized and visible to the average American, denying them equal rights becomes harder to stomach — particularly when it's denying access to an essentially conservative, government-sanctioned institution. As Amanda Marcotte observed not long ago, "The conservative argument against gay people is that they're a subversive threat because of their sexuality, and it's frankly hard to maintain that argument when you're faced with gay people clamoring to get into the same traditional structures that exist to control and stabilize straight sexuality."

That's why opinion polls have consistently jumped towards widespread support for gay marriage. In fact, just this week, Gallup released data showing that for the first time since it began tracking, a majority of Americans (53 percent) support full marriage equality.

It's not true that the country is now majority anti-abortion, or that young people are more "pro-life" than their elders, at least according to the most recent Gallup data, released today. It shows 49 percent of Americans describing themselves as pro-choice, compared to the 45 percent describing themselves as pro-life. "It is the first time since 2008 that the 'pro-choice' position has had the numerical advantage," according to Gallup. Unfortunately for pro-choicers and the future, the generation gap between 18-34 year olds and 35-54 year olds has narrowed, but it's because young people have become less pro-choice and middle-aged people more so.

But it is accurate to say that poll data shows that even those who describe themselves as pro-choice support restrictions on a woman's right to freely exercise that choice. Only 37% of Americans want abortion legal in "all or most circumstances," and Gallup notes that "political independents are evenly divided on the moral correctness of abortion, but they tilt fairly strongly toward restrictive abortion laws, with 60% saying abortion should be legal in a few or no circumstances."

The hows and the whys of this are another debate, but they clearly indicate that not only is Focus On The Family getting real (at this moment) by slightly backing off a fight they know they can't win, but that pro-choicers have a lot of work to do, not only fighting defense on legislation, but in the realm of hearts and minds.

Focus On The Family: We've Lost Gay Marriage [Mother Jones]
Refocused [World Magazine]
Americans Split Along Pro-Choice, Pro-Life Lines [Gallup]
For The First Time, Majority Of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage [Gallup]
Related: Abortion Vs. Gay Marriage: Short Term Versus Long-Term Victories