Gays and the New Public Philosophy

With humans’ millennia-old focus on collective survival no longer a primary concern, a few fortunate societies in the West have become preoccupied with matters of human, or individual, rights. A small but significant example of this is the UK’s recent debate in Parliament of a bill recognizing the right to same-sex marriage.

LONDON – With humanity’s millennia-old focus on collective survival no longer a primary concern, a few fortunate societies in the West have become preoccupied with matters of human, or individual, rights. In recent decades, we have experienced a second flowering of the individualism associated with such nineteenth-century thinkers as John Stuart Mill.

The rights of the individual were submerged by the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century. But since the 1960’s, the passions expended until then on righting collective wrongs have been increasingly channeled into securing the rights of humans as individuals. Indeed, if the West can be said to have a public philosophy nowadays, it is a philosophy of human rights.

A small but significant example of this is the United Kingdom’s recent debate in Parliament of a bill recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, which follows a decision taken in France this spring to legalize same-sex marriage. Indeed, the UK is something of a latecomer: thirteen countries already allow gay marriage, and the usually conservative current US Supreme Court recently struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act,” adopted in 1996 explicitly to ban gay marriages, and a law prohibiting gay marriage in California.

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