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Guest Thinkers

When the Law Catches Up With the Times

People’s attitudes lag behind their times, as Hermann Broch observed. At the height of the European Enlightenment, philosophers who dreamed of universal rights accepted that men would be broken on the wheel. In the late 19th century, men who read Marx and promoted workers’ rights found it natural to take time away from their work to fight a duel. And in the 1990’s “everyone knew” that the United States could never be a nation where all citizens could be accorded the rights and privileges of marriage. That attitude, too, was an atavism, yet it seemed nothing could be done.

But there are moments in politics when attitudes are brought into sync with the times, just like that—click!—with the stroke of a pen on a piece of paper. It takes political skill and courage on the part of politicians willing to put their hunches and bromides to the test. It’s no small thing to ask yourself if your emotions fit your times and, finding that they don’t, try to mend yourself instead of your era.

Last night was such a moment in New York State.


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