By Bill Frayer

The Gay Rights Evolution


Bill-Frayer-2010When teaching my critical thinking class in Maine, I often needed to find a controversial topic which would lend itself to class discussion. In the early 1990’s, gay rights was not a popular issue to discuss. If a student suggested it, the male students would put their heads down and stare at the floor. They wanted nothing to do with this topic. 

Ten years later, the atmosphere had completely changed.  Students would often suggest gay marriage as a topic. The younger students (18-30 years) were overwhelmingly in favor of allowing gays to marry. The older students were not quite as enthusiastic, but they welcomed the discussion.

So what changed? Why did the younger students embrace gay marriage so easily? It was decidedly not a conservative-liberal divide.  Many of my young students were very conservative politically. Many supported the Bush-Cheney ticket and often had strong religious beliefs. I would have thought, intuitively, they would have been more uncomfortable with the subject. 

I can think of a few reasons these young adults embraced gay marriage.  First of all, many had gay friends and thought of it as a simple civil rights issue. They overwhelmingly believed that “gayness” was not a choice but an inbred tendency. The fact they had gay friends indicated that being gay was not shameful anymore. Moreover, many TV shows have popular gay characters.  It’s easier to be openly gay today than at any time in our history.  So, for my young students, this was a non-issue. 

A May 2012 Pew poll backs this up.  Today 53% of Americans favor allowing same-sex couples to marry; 38% oppose.  This is a big change from 2008, when 38% favored gay marriage and 53% were opposed.  In 2004, only 32% favored it, with 59% opposed. 

American women, usually more progressive on social issues, favor gay marriage by 8%, while men oppose it by a similar 8%.  The most striking polling data is the age split.  Young people age 18-29 favor it by 62-32%. In the 31-49 group, the numbers are 47-44% in favor.  The old folks are less supportive.  50-64 year-olds oppose it 47-41%, and the 65+ group opposes it 56-32%.  So, as you can see from the data, this issue will most likely become a non-issue over the next few years.

Canada, of course, has approved gay marriage for all the provinces.  I predict we will soon view the opposition to gay marriage the way we now view the opposition to inter-racial marriage. 

I am not objective on this issue.  My daughter, Cassie, and her partner, Alana, have been enjoying a long-term relationship for five years.  They live in Portland, Maine where they enjoy a strong Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender community. Maine, along with Maryland and Washington State will be voting this November to allow same sex couples to marry. Up until now, all state-wide voting referendums have opposed gay marriage. All current gay marriage laws have been passed by legislatures or approved by court action. We’ll see if Maine can resurrect the old saw, ”As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”  I hope so.

Many of us remember witnessing the end of Jim Crow and the acceptance of inter-racial marriage and the integration of schools and the US military.  I suspect we are seeing the next civil rights evolution now.


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