Monday, December 12, 2011

2011: A Good Year to be Gay

via theguardian, by Aaron Hicklin

A funny thing happened in America in 2011. With the US political establishment in deadlock and Republicans bowing to Tea Party mandarins over a raft of issues from immigration to curbs on trade unions, one area of American civil liberties celebrated a watershed year.

After decades in which gay rights have polarised US opinion, the country barely shrugged in September when a two-decade old law prohibiting gay men and women from serving openly in the military was finally repealed, prompting thousands of gay soldiers to post coming-out videos on YouTube – just one more example of how the web has transformed gay visibility.

Less than two months earlier New York became the sixth, and biggest, state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

To put that in context, there are more people living in New York than in the Netherlands, which in 2001 became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage.

The struggle for marriage equality has been one of the most bitterly divisive issues in America, but after a series of defeats for gay-rights advocates, the tide appears to be shifting irrevocably in their direction.

A series of national polls this year has shown support for same-sex unions outgunning opposition for the first time since polling on the issue began in the 1980s – a dramatic turnaround from even three years earlier, when voters in California approved a ballot measure overturning same-sex marriage.

In the 2004 election, under the keen encouragement of Karl Rove, no fewer than 11 states passed ballot initiatives banning gay marriage — a cynical get-out-the-vote ploy that helped swell Republican ranks at the polling booths.

The perception that marriage equality was a poisoned pink chalice persisted up to the 2008 election, when even Obama was careful to clarify that he wasn't in favour of gay marriage, apparently heeding warnings from Bill Clinton to give the issue a wide berth.

Yet in this year's debates between the ragtag pack of Republican presidential nominees, the usual rhetoric denouncing gay marriage has been noticeably absent.

Even Obama, facing precarious odds for a second term, has said that he favours repealing the notorious Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented federal recognition of gay marriages, even those performed in states where they are legal.

What changed in those few short years? In many ways the transformation of attitudes has been ongoing for decades, accelerated in large part by the impact of Aids, which reconfigured gay identity around community and relationships.

In TV shows such as Glee and Modern Family, gays are no longer comic stooges or punchlines, their relationships treated with the same respect as those of their straight counterparts.

They hold hands, they kiss, they even share the same bed. This was a quantum leap on 1990s shows such as Will & Grace, in which the gay characters had the whiff of "confirmed bachelors", to use the archaic euphemism of obituary writers, rarely presented in functioning relationships, much less in love.

To young gay men and women today the idea that they will be able to marry and raise kids no longer sounds outlandish or controversial. It sounds axiomatic.

They see gay couples getting married in states such as New York and Massachusetts. They see Neil Patrick Harris, a popular television actor, posing on the red carpet with his partner, David Burtka, and their two children.

They listen, alongside their straight friends, to gay anthems by Lady Gaga, and watch popular gay-inclusive shows such as True Blood.

Most of all, they communicate with a diverse group of friends on Twitter and Facebook, where gay and straight teens revel in their shared cultural interests.

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