Gay marriage and the triumph of ’60s
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it seems same sex marriage is here to stay. As the cover of Time put it, “Gay Marriage Already Won. The Supreme Court Hasn’t Made Up Its Mind – But America Has.”
Even some social conservative rabble-rousers have conceded defeat. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, who in the past has compared gay unions to marrying a goat or a dolphin, has flipped, saying his views have “evolved.” “The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” O’Reilly said last week. “The other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.” Rush Limbaugh, too, is reluctantly resigned to the change. “I don’t care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable,” he said.
Few social liberals thought marriage equality would be as easy as this, but public support has been so swift that politicians of both stripes have rushed to endorse the legitimacy of same sex marriage. Even President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton were left playing catch-up.
Until recently gay marriage was widely judged a step too far that might put at risk the central battle over LGBT equal rights. The settling of the issue is symptomatic of a broader demographic movement in which social attitudes about personal freedoms have been transformed by what social scientists call “cohort replacement” ‑ in which a less tolerant generation has been replaced over time by more broad-minded young people.
When the president chose to include in his second Inaugural Address an appeal for a more generous and kind society, even some of his supporters thought he was wasting his time. The nation, they said, was not ready to complete the social revolution that began in the 1960s. “Our journey is not complete,” Obama said, “until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
Less than three months later, the completion of the revolution in individual liberties seems within reach. The embrace of gay marriage is the final act in a steady movement in progressive social attitudes over the past 50 years that includes the breakthrough in civil rights for racial minorities and advances in women’s rights such as the legalization of abortion. We already have a black president. It is no longer a question of whether we will have a woman president but how soon.
As the president says, the journey on each of these issues is not yet complete. Opponents are still making formidable efforts to reverse, or slow down, or make impractical many of the social advances already established. But the counter-revolution on voting rights for minorities, on the provision of abortion as an option for all women, the glass ceiling that discriminates against women in the workplace, the failure to pay men and women the same rate for the same work, and the foot-dragging on gay rights in some states is conspicuous and can be confronted because they are against the flow of history.
Social conservatism remains a strong force in places. But it is no longer the national default position. There may be a great deal still to be done, but the social liberalism championed by the baby boomers is now inexorably the norm.
What in the revolution for individual liberties is left undone? One of the boomers’ common demands, the legalization of marijuana, is making steady progress in a number of states ‑ with libertarians joining with social liberals to bring to an end draconian punishments for soft drug offenses. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Tea Party favorite for president, is working on a Senate bill to reduce the length of mandatory drug sentences.
“I don’t want to promote [smoking pot], but I also don’t want to put people in jail who make the mistake,” he said. “The last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use. … They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail.” Cohort replacement is changing the terms of the drug debate, too.
The most conspicuous failure of the social liberal revolution, however, is the perpetuation of the death penalty, though even here there is a slow and steady movement toward suspension ‑ if not outright abolition. As with gay marriage, public opinion is fast swinging against capital punishment, with 60 percent in one poll favoring life sentences and just 33 percent demanding the death penalty. Gallup also shows a marked turnaround, with the 80-16 split in favor of capital punishment in 1994 falling to 61-35 by 2011.
Coincidentally, the number of death sentences imposed has fallen precipitously since the turn of the century.
Twenty years ago, in his book The End of History, Francis Fukuyama celebrated the end of the Cold War by suggesting that the great ideological battle over the role of the market set off by Karl Marx and taken up by Vladimir Lenin had been settled once and for all. Capitalism had won. We appear to have reached a similar new consensus in the near-completion of the ‘60s social revolution.
Twenty years ago, Pat Buchanan listed the changes to America that would take place if social conservatives were to lose the culture war. Everything on his list – abortion on demand, homosexual rights, women in battle zones – has come about as the demands for social inclusion and tolerance of the love generation have been met. It is time to declare the culture war over.
Boomers can start partying like it’s 1967.
PHOTO (Top): Protestors hold signs and flags as they rally against the Defense of Marriage Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
PHOTO (Insert A): A demonstrator holds a sign outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
PHOTO (Insert B): Pat Buchanan speaking to a rally at the Cobb County Convention Center in Marietta, February 27. 1996. REUTERS