By Davide Rastelli, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Public opinion on gay marriage is changing. 2011 marked the first occasion on which a majority of Americans were recognized as supporting the marriage of homosexual couples, with 51% of people agreeing that same-sex marriage should be recognized as valid. This marked a huge increase in public support since a previous poll in 2009, which found that only 44% of Americans agreed with the validation of gay marriage. Support for gay marriage in the United States is now even higher, standing at 58%, which may be due in part to the announcement of President Obama’s endorsement of the policy in May 2012. Considering this rapidly increasing support for equal marriage rights for American homosexuals, it is surely only a matter of time before gay marriage becomes legal across the United States, and the ongoing argument in the Supreme Court over the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is testament to this.
DOMA, signed into law in 1996 during the Clinton administration, affirms that no US state is required to recognize the marriage of two people of the same sex from another state. The current Supreme Court hearing is debating whether DOMA is unconstitutional for denying equal rights and protection to homosexuals. The case was initially brought by Edith Windsor, who was required to pay over $350,000 worth of federal inheritance tax after the death of her wife in 2009, a tax which would not have been levied if she had been married to a man. The Court is also debating the legality of Proposition 8, a 2008 California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Although the more conservative members of the Supreme Court have stated their belief that it may currently be too early for national gay marriage rights to be signed into federal law, it seems likely that a majority of justices will vote that DOMA is unconstitutional, in accordance with 59% of the US population.
Much of the debate has focused on the definition of marriage itself, with opponents of same-sex marriage arguing that it is not in line with traditional values to open up marriage for homosexuals, seeing this as a breach of an age-old institution. This argument seems weak, particularly in light of the fact that the right to interracial marriage only became federal law in 1967. Times change, societies evolve, and the law has to remain updated in order to reflect this. So-called “traditional mindsets” are becoming an excuse for bigotry. Perhaps even more absurd is the argument that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry due to their inability to procreate. Much of the debate over Proposition 8 has focused on this argument, with opponents contesting that the inability of gay couples to have children with one another means that allowing them to marry would redefine the traditional significance of marriage. This is an entirely incongruous statement considering the same argument could be applied to sterile couples or postmenopausal women.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing arguments against the legalization of gay marriage lies in the adoption issue. Some sociologists argue that raising a child in a same-sex family can be detrimental to the child’s upbringing, although solid scientific evidence to back up this theory does not yet exist due to the relatively short lifespan of adoption rights for same-sex couples. One of the main arguments in this field is that a lack of male or female role models may hinder a child’s ability to function in society, but this argument is also rooted in tradition; it has always been the norm for children to be raised by heterosexual couples, but as society gradually moves away from this traditional outlook and it becomes more common for children to be raised by same-sex couples, the aforementioned issues are likely to dissipate. The impact of tradition on mindsets concerning gay marriage and adoption is evident in that age and support for gay marriage are inversely proportional to each other; in the US, 81% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 are in favor of gay marriage, while only 44% of those older than 65 share the same view. The current trend, therefore, seems to indicate that as time passes and the new generation gets older, the number of people in favor of the federal legalization of gay marriage will increase.
A similar tendency seems to be occurring in terms of religious objection to same-sex marriage. This works in two ways: firstly, religious people in general are becoming more accepting of homosexual relationships; secondly, recent surveys point towards a gradual decline in the number of Americans identifying themselves as religious. Religion has traditionally been one of the main barriers to progress in the field of gay rights, but as the number of religious people declines and religious people – particularly the younger generation – become more liberal, opposition to gay marriage and gay rights in general will decrease; this trend is likely to continue into the future. The percentage of Americans identifying as Roman Catholics who are in favor of the legalization of gay marriage currently stands at 59%, which is a surprising figure considering the Catholic Church’s traditional lack of tolerance towards homosexuals, and this number is set to rise even higher. Even controversial conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly has derided opponents of gay marriage, stating that they have done nothing more than “thump the Bible” in their arguments.
Alas, although the struggle for equal rights for homosexuals continues, the future seems bright. Nine US states have already legalized same-sex marriage, and California and Rhode Island legally recognize, but do not perform, the union. A number of countries around the world have fully legalized gay marriage, including Argentina, South Africa and Spain. Furthermore, a number of bills for the legalization of same-sex marriage have recently been passed in several countries, perhaps most notably the UK and France. Despite the widely-reported protests against the marriage bill in Paris, in part due to the large Catholic and Muslim populations of the capital, opinion polls show that there is a solid majority in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. Progress in the field is being made at a quicker rate than ever before: the passage of time will inevitably lead to further evolution of attitudes on the matter, and current developments are promising. Traditional thought is being eroded away, and it’s about time too.