When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the rights of gays to sexual privacy, it wasn't a hard call to put the story on the cover. NEWSWEEK has covered the gay-rights movement for more than 30 years, and this was seismic news both as an emotional victory for gays and lesbians and as a harbinger of bitter battles over other gay-rights issues. But what should the image be? Cover Director Bruce Ramsay suggested this "split run": two couples, one gay and one lesbian, who appear on alternate covers of the magazine this week. Dominic Pisciotta and Andrew Berg had a civil-union ceremony in Vermont, registered as domestic partners in New York and are raising twins. Lauren Leslie and Elisabeth Noel Jones have become engaged, bought rings and scheduled a commitment ceremony for May 2004. All now hope they can someday get legally married. As Jones puts it, "Love is love, no matter the sexual orientation of the people involved."
Unfortunately for them, however, it won't be that simple. As Evan Thomas and Debra Rosenberg report, the high-court decision will embolden activists to push even harder for everything from gay marriage and universal adoption rights to open military service. But while Americans have grown more comfortable with gays and their right to privacy, many are still squeamish about according them full legal status and the benefits that go along with it. (It's one reason the idea of affirmative action, which the court also upheld last week, will always be controversial. Americans find it a lot easier to accept laws defining what the state shouldn't do to minority groups than what the state should do for them.) And both verdicts will increase pressure from staunch conservatives on President Bush to use any new court vacancies to appoint justices who share their views on "family values."
Are we reaching the end of an era--captured in a profile of Sandra Day O'Connor by Thomas and Stuart Taylor Jr. and candid photos by David Hume Kennerly--in which swing justices who reflect public ambivalence about social issues have saved a divided court from all-out war? Let's hope not. In a bitter dissent from the gay-rights decision, Justice Antonin Scalia raged about the "moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual activity." If you ask me, what many Americans would really disapprove of is a court stripped of moderates who help legitimize what would otherwise be seen as purely ideological decisions.