Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Gay marriage and the triumph of ’60s

Nicholas Wapshott
Apr 3, 2013 00:23 UTC

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.”

Uniting court — and country

Nicholas Wapshott
Mar 26, 2013 22:14 UTC

The comedian Peter Cook once joked, “I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin.” Instead, he became a coal miner. “They only ask one question. They say, ‘Who are you?’ And I got 75 percent for that.” As the laughter subsided, Cook added a satirical kicker. “Being a miner, as soon as you are too old and tired and sick and stupid to do the job properly, you have to go. Well, the very opposite applies with the judges.”

It seems that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may have been listening to some of Cook’s old records. Ahead of this week’s landmark hearings in which the Supremes hear two cases in which they are being invited to decide whether same-sex marriages are constitutional, Kennedy made a sharp and surprising critique of the role the court has played in recent years in settling awkward matters that would have been far better decided by Congress. “A democracy,” he declared, “should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.”

It is a strange admission for a Supreme Court justice. Cook made fun of the fact that senior judges are mostly old and doddery, and the older and more doddery they become, the more detached they are from normal life. Many who believe that justice should be impartial welcome the rarefied atmosphere in which judges tend to live and make their decisions. Kennedy, meanwhile, is suggesting the opposite ‑ that if justices have to be brought in to decide issues that would better have been solved by Congress, they should be more of an age and closer to the backgrounds of the ordinary Americans who must live with their decisions.

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