Shifting attitudes on gay rights extend around globe, experts say

Posted by Eliott C. McLaughlin on

"In signing Argentina's freedom to marry law, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said debate over the issue would be 'absolutely anachronistic' -- archaic, out of date -- within a few years.

"Striking down California's Proposition 8 two weeks later, Judge Vaughn Walker was more specific, saying there was no evidence for old-fashioned stereotypes that painted gays 'as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality.'

"Banning people from marrying based on sexual orientation, the President Reagan appointee explained, is 'irrational.'

"'Often courts will make decisions that are predictors of what public opinion is going to be a few years from now,' said Brian Powell, an Indiana University sociology professor and co-author of the upcoming book, 'Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family.'

"As Walker indicated, attitudes are changing, and waning are concepts that homosexuality harms children, defies biblical teachings or destroys the fabric of society.

"'Public attitudes don't change really quickly, but this is one that's changing really, really quickly,' Powell said.

"The trend is similar abroad, especially among younger people, said Suzanne Goldberg, a Columbia University law professor who heads the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. The center has handled asylum cases for gay people fleeing persecution in countries including Jamaica, Brazil, Uzbekistan and Ivory Coast.

"Research indicates younger people are beginning to see sexual orientation as 'benign variation, so that the differences between gay and nongay couples are simply not so interesting,' Goldberg said in an e-mail.

"'Once that happens, societies have less interest in distinguishing between relationships of gay and nongay couples,' she added.

"Before 2008, Massachusetts (via a court ruling) was the only U.S. state to legalize marriages of same-sex couples, while the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa were the only countries. Since then, four U.S. states, five countries, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City have legalized the freedom to marry.

... "Powell's research shows American definitions of family are becoming flexible, he said, likening the marriage equality debate to the rumblings preceding the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision authorizing interracial marriages.

"Before the miscegenation ruling, researchers found younger people, those with liberal religious views and voters with higher education levels had fewer qualms with interracial marriages.

"Similar lines hold true in today's marriage debate. Powell added another variable: gender. Women have a 'more inclusive' definition of family, he said.

... "To those fighting for gay rights, Powell said, any step forward helps because it increases dialogue and people's comfort levels.

"'Contact makes things less scary, makes it more comfortable, and the more comfort you have the less opposition you're going to have,' he said."

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