Monday, July 11, 2011

The Moral Generation Gap

I’ve referenced the term millenial before, in “Transformations in Trends In Transition of Christianity”, as an identification of my own generation, those born in the 1980s and coming of age in the 2000s. This time, the reference is on more general issues, probably the two most contentious these days: abortion rights and gay marriage.

The results of a study by the Public Religion Research Institute suggest that there is some generational stability with the issue of pro life in terms of both moral and legal concerns, but that neither the moral nor legal problems about gay marriage seen by parents of millenials have transferred as well. There is a slight difference in terms of millenial’s beliefs about abortion’s morality, 50% believing it is wrong, less than half of the study believing it is morally acceptable, contrasting with a 54% moral opposition by their parents and a similar contrast morally supporting it. However, there seems to be no difference between the number of middle aged and young adults concerning whether abortion should be legal. If the 60-70% figure for millenials is any indication, it would seem that the legality and availability of abortion are both accepted by the generations almost equally. The difference is between one’s personal moral dis/agreement with abortion and one’s public permission of abortion as a practice, regardless of if they agree or disagree with abortion morally. This at least shows that people are still able to distinguish between the privacy of one’s moral beliefs and the limit to which you can force those moral beliefs on others as legislation. It makes me feel confident about the state of abortion’s legality in my generation’s perspective and in the future.

Gay marriage, on the other hand, is where the generations strongly diverge. Millenials are now around 60% in stating that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, only 40% saying it is morally wrong, whereas their parents are the inverse of that, finding gay sex immoral around 60% of the time, only 40% or so finding it permissible. The survey also spoke on the differences between millenials and their parents on whether gay marriage should be legal, and it seems more millenials are supportive of gay marriage as legal in the United States, compared to their parents, where only about a quarter of that generation seems to support gay marriage.

The study’s focus was moreso on the abortion issue, reflecting that while support for the legality of abortion has gone up slightly with millenials, they have remained consistent with their parents’ age group in their beliefs about abortion’s morality. The actual gap that is significant exists with gay marriage, speaking on people’s increasing belief that people should be able to marry whomever they desire, regardless of if they are the same gender/sex, and it should be legal across the country even if you might disagree with it, since there is some overlap of moral permission and legal permission among millenials, no doubt.

There are predictions, however, from people such as Tony Perkins, notorious for his opposition to gay marriage and support of so-called family values (and also whined that the words “Under God” were taken out of the pledge at the NBC World Open golf tournament), that millenials will change their mind about gay marriage once they have children of their own. This is little more than him propagating paranoia to parents and children to either make them feel better or reconsider their position in the future respectively. The notion that once you get married and/or have a family (because you can have a family without being married) that you’ll suddenly be opposed to same sex couples having the same rights as you is a predictor of stupidity, which I would hope people are increasingly less likely to be when we get past stereotypes and stigma about gay people and get to know them as people. If I get married and then a gay couple gets married, it affects my straight marriage in no way, shape or form. Heck, it’s not even remotely possible that I’d suddenly start questioning whether marriage is a good thing just because a small group of committed monogamous couples who are gay happen to also have the same title.

If anything, there seems to be a consistent notion of tradition that you can maintain your private morals and opposition to something but at the same time, tolerate its existence under legal parameters, such as abortion not being on demand, but having a process. As many have put it, from Planned Parenthood to Bill Clinton (right?), “Abortion should be safe, legal and rare,” I can’t say I’m surprised, considering abortion is a much more emotionally charged subject than gay marriage these days. Part of the combined skepticism of traditional marriage and acceptance of non-traditional gay marriage is theorized to be due to children of this generation experiencing all the more evidently the problems with straight marriage or at least the apparent lack of success around 50% or so of couples’ experience. But I somehow doubt that just because some people have had experience directly with straight marriages failing or are skeptical of people’s capacity to remain faithful to each other, that they will be more likely to support gay marriage. Supporting gay marriage is about whether you think people deserve equal opportunity to marry, regardless of sexual orientation. Just supporting the rights of gay people to marry doesn’t mean you think straight marriage has any less value. They are equal in their willingness to commit, only different in their sexual biology.

With abortion, however, it becomes more difficult because of the associated argument that every person is alive today because of pro life sentiments. But this isn’t true either. Every person is alive today because their parents made a choice for life, but at the same time, have no doubt experience with people who have had to make decisions on whether to abort a child for a variety of reasons. The fact that this is somewhat more common these days indicates to me that this tendency for people to personally disagree with something, but have the decency to say that people deserve to have the option to abort depending on circumstances won’t disappear easily. And in that sense many people seem to have been able to separate their private and public spheres, allowing people basic inalienable rights, but nonetheless holding a pride in their own beliefs as long as they are not infringing on rights that they themselves would not want infringed upon.  It’s certainly better than it used to be, from what I understand of abortion legislation history. But history always seems to at least progress in some way forward, from Roe v. Wade onward for abortion’s legality and persistence thereof. So until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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