Just 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage in 1996, according to a Gallup poll taken in May of that year. The same poll taken in 2013 put support at 53%. Another Gallup poll taken in 1996 showed that 30% of Americans believed abortion should be illegal in all three trimesters of pregnancy. The same poll taken in 2012 put support at 31% for that position. Gallup polls over the last four decades have shown little change in opinion on abortion. While there have been some pro-life successes over the years, there are certainly no signs of a decisive cultural victory in the near future, as there increasingly seems to be for the cause of homosexuality.
What explains the difference? Why have activists for homosexuality been so successful over such a short period of time, while pro-life activists have been unable to make significant progress?
The answer is complex, of course, and entails many factors. There is one factor, though, that is seldom discussed publicly, yet is essential to a full explanation of the difference: the ubiquitous acceptance and use of contraception.
What Contraception Means
The act by which married spouses fully give of themselves to each according to their sex – and thereby express and consummate their one-flesh union – is the same act by which they can conceive a child. In other words, a married couple consummates their marriage with sex, and they produce children with sex: unity and procreation are just two aspects of the same sexual act.
Contraception works by changing the sexual act so that one of the spouses withholds an essential aspect of their sexuality – an aspect specific to their sex – from the other spouse. For example, by using a condom, the man withholds his seed from his wife; and by taking hormonal contraception, the woman withholds her natural fertility from her husband. Thus, in attempting to deny the procreative aspect of sex, contraception also denies the unitive aspect, and it does so by denying some sexual difference between the spouses.
So if the use of contraception is acceptable, its implications are clear: sex need not be ordered to procreation; nor need it be a full, physical gift of self that would imply the life-long commitment and unity of marriage; and sexual difference and the integrity of our bodies need not be respected. With this view of sex, people are free to have a series of sexual partners and varying kinds of sexual relationships.
This contraceptive mentality has so deeply infiltrated our culture’s shared understanding of sexuality that it affects most people whether they use contraception or not.
Facilitator of Abortion and Homosexuality
The pro-life movement has been unsuccessful in dislodging abortion from mainstream American culture at least in part because it has not challenged the primary instigator of the sexual culture that requires abortion. Barring more drastic measures, the order of nature is not easily squelched: no method of contraception is 100% effective, and that’s even when it’s used properly, which it is often not. As a result, the contraceptive culture has made common the unplanned pregnancy, in which people are surprised that their sexual intercourse led to a child. Combined with the growth of the casual sex market enabled by contraception, unplanned pregnancies unfortunately often occur between people with no interest in living together permanently, let alone raising a child.
Abortion is the fail-safe, the final solution that ensures any child who manages to be procreated anyway can be disposed of so one can remain sexually liberated. Abortion is the child sacrifice required to maintain the contraceptive culture. A contracepting public will remain unwilling to give up all legal recourse to abortion in case their failed contraception, or non-contracepted sexual promiscuity encouraged by the contraceptive culture, ever leaves them with an unplanned pregnancy. (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 13)
The contraceptive mentality has also paved the way for the acceptance of homosexuality. If sex need not be directed toward procreation or conjugal unity, and if sexual differences need not be respected, pleasure or some other kind of personal fulfillment becomes the primary goal—a goal that can be attained by all sorts of misuses of one’s body and with any assortment of partners. If the use of contraception is acceptable, there is no principled reason why homosexual acts should not be as well.