The Changing Tide of Public Opinion: Same-Sex Marriage
When I was a child, I loved to visit my Uncle Butsie and my Uncle Arne. They lived in New York City and they took my family to exotic restaurants. My Uncle Butsie was a music impresario and spoke several European languages. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that my parents told me that my uncles were gay, and that Uncle Arne wasn’t my real uncle.
No one in our family talked out loud about Butsie’s sexual orientation. Despite the fact that he lived with Arne for over 50 years, until he passed away, his sister (my grandmother and her younger sister) were always trying to set Butsie up with single women. It was hard for them to accept him as he was.
Later in his life, he talked to us about his struggles as a gay man in the army during World War II and in the 1950’s in New York. He had never talked to us before about his sexuality. He and Arne were life partners, and today, I am sure that they would have been married.
In the last ten years, there has been a remarkable shift in public attitudes about gay marriage in the United States. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 14% of all Americans have changed their minds in favor of gay marriage.
But the real shift in public opinion has occurred in the population of “Millennials”—adults born since 1980 who are between 18-32 today. Seventy percent of this demographic group supports gay marriage! Their support has grown from 51% in 2003 to 70% today—a huge change in attitude over a brief time period.
Why has there been this change in views? Interestingly 32% say that it is because they know someone—a friend, family member, or acquaintance, who is homosexual. Twenty-five percent say that their views have changed as they have thought about the issue or simply grown older. Eighteen percent say they changed their mind because the world has changed. The same percentage changed their point of view because they feel that adults should be free to choose what makes them happy. They don’t believe that the state should be involved in people’s personal lives.
Despite these shifts in public opinion, and the growing number of young people who accept gay marriage, a majority of Americans (56%) still oppose same-sex-marriages based on religious beliefs.
For whatever reason, there is a growing acceptance of homosexuality in our modern world. Television and media figures have come out of the closet. There are movies and TV shows about gay couples. A decade ago, the public was equally divided about whether homosexuality should be discouraged. Today, 57% say that it should be accepted and 36% believe that it should be discouraged.
Americans have also changed their views about same-sex couples as parents. In 2003, 54% of adults thought that they could be capable parents. Now, 64% agree that homosexual parents can do a good job.
Interestingly, 66% of Americans feel that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, with just 30% disagreeing. This may represent the deeply held belief in American life that government should not intervene in our personal decisions.
In 2013, nine states, including Washington State recognize same-sex marriage with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this month on the constitutionality of federal laws that ban homosexual unions.
I loved my uncles, who were loving and kind to our family. They were deeply committed to each other and remained partners until “death did they part”. They were respected in their community and loved each other deeply. I am glad that if they were alive today, we could see them express their love and commitment publically, in a legal ceremony.
What do you think? Have your views changed? If so, why?