As the befits my obsession with this stuff, I’ve been watching the legal battle in the US over gay marriage relatively closely. Yesterday there was an interesting development: Bill O’Reilly, doyen of the Right, came out publicly in favour of gay marriage, saying that opponents merely “thump the Bible”.
As ever, it’s a bit more subtle than that: he thinks it should be up to states whether they enact it or not, and he says he “doesn’t feel all that strongly about it”, but that the “compelling” arguments are on the pro-same-sex marriage side. Also, it’s not clear whether he was ever against gay marriage as such: in an interview with a gay magazine in 2002, he at first said he opposed gay marriage, but later in the interview shifted to saying he “couldn’t care less” and that if the law were to change, “You want to get married? Knock yourself out. Go to Vegas. Have a good time. If you can get [the law] changed, I’m not going to jump up and down and say I think it’s wrong, because I don’t.”
Anyway, here’s what he said yesterday:
The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That’s where the compelling argument is. ‘We’re Americans; we just want to be treated like everybody else’. That is a compelling argument. And to deny that you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible…
I support civil unions, I always have. The gay marriage thing, I don’t feel that strongly about one way or the other. I think the states should do it. I want all Americans to be happy.
What I think is interesting here is not O’Reilly’s personal views, but the fact that he decided to say it on prime-time Fox News. After the recent statement by Karl Rove, who said that there could be a Republican presidential candidate in 2016 who supports marriage, and Marco Rubio (one of the possible 2016 candidates) saying that he thinks it should be up to the states, it feels as though the balance of opinion on the US Right is shifting. Or, at least, as though parts of the Republican Party and the rest of the Right have realised that the balance of opinion in the country has shifted, so some of them have moved to realign themselves.
And public opinion has shifted: as Nate Silver showed the other day, the number of people opposing same-sex marriage fell behind the number supporting it, for the first time, in 2010. Now there is a slim outright majority: 51 per cent of American support gay marriage, compared to 42.5 per cent who oppose. About half of the shift is people changing their minds: the other half is “generational turnover”, ie older people, who have a greater tendency to be against gay marriage, are dying.
I don’t know, of course, how the Supreme Court will rule on the somewhat hysterically named Defence of Marriage Act, and I don’t know whether what looks like a shift from the Right is real, or if it is, whether it will win more votes than it loses: look at the poor old Tories, ripping themselves to chunks over gay marriage in this country. But clearly a few people on the US Right think it’s time to start wrapping themselves in the rainbow flag.