How President Obama’s Support of Gay Marriage Signals the Decline of Homophobia in America
This week President Obama become the first sitting president (and serious presidential candidate) in history to publicly announce his support of gay marriage. While this declaration is a long time coming and has been decried as too little too late by some gay rights activists, it represents a major shift and hopefully a bellwether for the decline in homophobia in the US.
Support for Gay Marriage in America
Public opinion has slowly been shifting in support of gay marriage, with more Americans (46%) favoring same sex marriage, up from 35% just 10 years ago in 2001, according to the Pew Research Institute. While this increase in support cuts across different political, demographic, and religious group, age seems to be the most stubborn factor when it comes to changes views about gays. 53% of those born after 1980 favor gay marriage rights, compared to only 38% of those born between 1946 and 1964, and only 29% of those born between 1928 and 1945.
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Why Homophobia is on the Decline
Many factors in recent decades have contributed to a decline in homophobia in America.
- Legalization of gay marriage. Same-sex marriages were first legalized by a state (Massachusetts) in 2004. Currently 6 states and the District of Columbia legally recognize gay marriages, three others recognize gay marriages made in other jurisdictions, and many other states allow for civil unions or domestic partnerships among gay couples, granting state-level marriage rights. Dozens of other states are currently battling for same-sex marriage rights in their courts. The legalization of same-sex marriage makes clear that gay couples should enjoy equal rights under the law. In addition, gay marriage helps debunks myths and stereoptypes about gay couples, demonstrating that they share the same values and lifestyles as their straight counterparts.
- The gay rights movement. Over the last few decades, the gay rights movement in the United States has made enormous strides towards social equality for gays and lesbians. Through political activism, street parades and marches, advocacy work, and support groups, the gay rights movement has been effective in changing american attitudes towards gay people.
- Increased positive portrayals of gay couples in the media.While there is still work to be done, more and more TV shows and movies are positively portraying gay couples. In fact, today's most popular TV show, Modern Family, features a gay couple trying to adopt a child. Often these couples are simply the guys next door or the family down the street, demonstrating the reality that gay men and women are woven into the fabric of our society and helping make people more comfortable with their real-life gay neighbors.
- Greater visibility. More and more youth today are growing up with gay people as part of their every day lives. Not only are politicians and other public figures “out” but gay couples are raising children and young people are able to come out of the closet without as much fear of marginalization. Knowing someone who is openly gay is becoming the norm, leading to greater acceptance and support.
Saying Goodbye to Homophobia
Whether president Obama’s public support of gay marriage will make a difference in the fight to end homophobia or in the 2012 presidential election is yet to be seen. However, having a presidential candidate make this type of statement is a major step in the right direction. Every generation seems to be increasingly at ease with the idea that gays and lesbians are an integral part of our society. Let’s hope that the next generation grows up in a world where gays and lesbians have equal rights and the idea of discrimination based on sexual preference seems as antiquated as the idea of racial or gender discrimination does today.