Convenience vs. Conscience, Kim Davis &Roe vs. Wade
There are some striking parallels between the Supreme Courts famous abortion decision in 1973, Roe v. Wade, and the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue gay marriage licences. Roe is the Kim Davis case writ large, or to say the same thing in another way, the Kim Davis case is a microcosm of Roe v. Wade.
ConvenienceYou probably have heard that Kim Davis denied gays their right to marry. Actually, there are 120 counties and therefore 120 county clerks in Kentucky, and all are authorized to issue marriage licenses that are good anywhere in Kentucky. So Kim Davis could not stop gays from marrying. She just forced them to drive a few extra miles to another county to get a licence.
Similarly, before Roe v. Wade half the states had already legalized abortion. Women simply crossed state lines to get abortions. So like the Kim Davis case, the issue was not legality. Nor, as is often argued, was safety an issue in Roe v. Wade. Like the Kim Davis case, the issue was convenience.
How Important to Abortion and Gay Marriage?From the statistics, it is not clear that Roe changed the number of abortions much. The Roe decision came in January so we would expect abortion to greatly increase in 1973. Abortion did increase in 1973, but the increase was similar to the increases in 1972 and 1974. Abortion kept increasing until the early 1980's. Looking at the statistics there is nothing particularly special about 1973 and therefore it seems likely that Roe had little influence on the number of abortions.
If Roe were reversed it seems likely that one or two conservative states would outlaw abortion. Women from those states that wanted an abortion would cross state lines, just as they did before Roe. Women today are even more mobile than they were in 1972. The percentage of households without a vehicle is much lower, so even in the few states that outlawed abortion, the inconvenience would be even less that it was in 1972, before Roe.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who believe their eternal salvation is in danger if they were in any way involved in an abortion could move to those conservative states that outlawed abortion. Perhaps those states would find the cost of medical services reduced. Women would still have the freedom to have abortions, but medical professionals would have more freedom to avoid involvement in abortion.
Kim Davis Not Important to Gay MarriageSimilarly in the case of Kim Davis, it seems highly unlikely the decision of Davis not to issue marriage licences to gays prevented even one gay marriage. But if Kim Davis had won then county clerks might have been able to continue in their jobs without having to be personally involved in issuing gay marriage licences.
How Important to Politics? Who Gained?While Roe seems of have had little influence on abortion and Kim Davis case probably had no influence on gay marriage, the influence of both on politics was enormous.
In the Kentucky gubernatorial election that followed the Davis trial a conservative Republican, Matt Bevin won an election that centered on social issues. When Bevin was running he said he wanted the discussion to be about economics, but instead social issues dominated. I suspect that the Kim Davis case was central to those social issues as the trial and jailing of Kim Davis was in the two months before the election. The Republican winner, Bevin, supported Kim Davis, his Democratic opponent was the attorney general who refused to defend Kentucky's law against gay marriage in court.
The new Republican governor promised during the campaign to take Kentucky out of Obamacare. As I understand it, he did not go through with this once in office, but essentially the liberals put the healthcare of a huge number of people in Kentucky at risk so they could save a few gay couples the inconvenience of driving a few extra miles.
Roe, Politics, Ecology, the Income DistributionSimilarly, Roe seems to have had a huge effect on American politics. In 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade was decided, America's income distribution was more equal than it has been before or since, and the percentage of people falling below the poverty threshold was at its lowest level in American history. The percentage of income going to the top one percent was at, or near the lowest level in American history. Forty-three years later the income distribution is as unequal or more unequal than it has ever been at any other time in American history.
No doubt there are a number of factors, but the religious voters are a large part of the story. From about 1830 and the rise of the anti-slavery movement to until about 1970 and the rise of the anti-abortion movement the religious vote was predominately a liberal vote. Conservatives complained bitterly about the clergy preaching politics from the pulpit. Since 1973 the religious vote has become a largely conservative vote, and the liberals are making much the same complaints the conservatives used to make.
I have focused on abortion, but a more general version of the same story would be that in the sixties there was a sexual revolution and the Democrats became the party of the sexual revolution, because of this they lost the religious vote, and that is one of the major reasons that the income distribution has become progressively more unequal.
The Political Power of ReligionThe religious vote is stronger than many people realize for several reasons. First, everyone knows that they will probably never cast the deciding vote in an election. So there is no necessary connection between economic self-interest and the vote. The self-interested voter tends to concentrate on placating a supernatural agent, usually God. This is particularly true because we have a secret ballot, secret for humans but not secret for an all knowing God.
Statistical studies published in peer-reviewed journals of political science repeatedly confirm what reason tells us, religion is one of the most powerful, maybe the most powerful, determinants of how people vote.
Furthermore, religious people are far more likely to vote. One peer-reviewed journal article showed that among the relatively uneducated the regular church attenders were twice as likely to vote. This is no doubt a key reason why the Republicans do so well in the off-year elections when the voter turnout is so low. This is no big mystery. Many religions teach that voting is a duty and failure to vote will be punished in the afterlife. As the chance of deciding the election is so small the selfish secularist has little or no reason to vote, but the religious person, whether generous or self-interested, does.
Why do the Democrats give away elections?So if the religious vote is so important, why do the Democrats give it away. A key element is that in many of these issues the polls say that the majority of the population supports the Democrats. The press and even some politicians actually believe that abortion and gay marriage are winning issues for Democrats.
In a referendum, they would be right. You can win a referendum with weak supporters. A vote is a vote. If the majority support gay marriage or abortion then gay marriage or abortion will become the law, unless overturned by the courts.
Indirect Democracy and The Passionate VoterBut in indirect democracy, where you elect a candidate to a government office and then that politician decides policy, people who care deeply about an issue are more important. The question is not does the majority support a particular policy, the question is how many people will change their vote and in which direction because of the issue.
Many studies have shown that most people who say that abortion is an important in determining their vote are pro-life. Many people who used to vote a straight Democratic ticket now vote a straight Republican ticket because of the abortion issue. This has been a major factor that changed American politics.
It is common to see a bumper sticker, "I am pro-choice and I vote." But that is not the issue. The issue is, did the voter vote Republican and then switch to the Democratic party because of the pro-choice issue. The honest answer in almost all cases would be no. On the other hand, a huge portion of my religious friends switched from Democrat to Republican largely because of the abortion issue.
Similarly, many of the supporters of gay marriage do not feel strongly about it. It has been pointed out that the supporters of gay marriage are frequently anti-gay. They say, Sure if the gays want to get married, let them. Frequently when they say this they will use a far more negative term for the gays. The votes of these homophobic supporters of gay marriage will help gay marriage winning a referendum, but it is unlikely to cause many voters to change parties.
On the other hand, religious leaders, including those of my own Catholic faith, are threatening hell fire and brimstone for gay marriage supporters or even those that vote for politicians that support gay marriage.
Furthermore, many African Americans are furious that their race is being compared to homosexuality.
Numbers Gays vs. Blacks, Catholics, Religious VotersAfrican Americans outnumber gays ten to one, Catholics in America outnumber gays twenty to one, Christians and religious people in general outnumber gays by more than seventy to one. Given that only about one in ten gays takes advantage of the right to marry when given the opportunity, and perhaps most gays will vote Democrat regardless, you can see gay marriage might be a losing issue for Democrats even if a majority support it.
The Republican party is to a large degree a coalition of various groups, libertarians, gun-rights supporters, religious voters, and others who frequently fixate on one or a narrow group of related issues. Democrats try and fail to reason with these groups, Republicans cut a deal.
Ideals vs. Deals, Professors vs. PoliticiansDemocrats are a party of ideals, Republicans a party of the deal. Democrats are a party of college professors, Republicans are a party of politicians.
In the sixties and before the Democrats were the party of the deal and income equality was increasing. Since the Democrats threw away that role in the late sixties and early seventies the income distribution has become progressively more unequal. Of course the income distribution in other high-income, developed nations has also become more unequal so there are a number of issues.
The Ecology and Income Distribution are more Important than ConvenienceReturning to my central topic, if we look at Roe v. Wade and the Kim Davis case from a practical secular point of view they were about very little. Roe made abortion more convenient, the Davis case made it more convenient for gays to get marriage licences. Liberals in their struggle to make abortion and gay marriage convenient sacrificed the poor and the ecology. The courts have handed liberals victories on abortion and gay marriage but these were Pyrrhic victories, that lead to defeat after defeat on the important issues that Democrats care about.