Future isn’t gay or straight
By Michael H. O’Donnell
Social change is inevitable and usually slow enough to keep grandpa from having a conniption. The same can’t be said for ultra-conservatives.
And when it comes to any social issue that sparks controversy, attitudes shift more rapidly after a majority begins to accept or embrace the change.
A woman’s right to vote, interracial marriage, gay marriage and even the legalization of pot have followed similar paths in the political landscape. They have moved from unthinkable to unpopular to accepted.
In the early days of our republic, the line in the Declaration of Independence of “all men are created equal” was taken quite literally. Men were granted the power to vote and make decisions and women were not. For some reason, New Jersey allowed women to vote for a few years in the late 1700s, but after watching Snooki on“Jersey Shore,” I’ll bet men had little choice.
That being said, the voting rights of women in this country were slow in coming. A big push came in 1850 from a woman who eventually had a dollar coin to commemorate her efforts. Her name was Susan B. Anthony. Fortunately she was more successful than the dollar coin.
At the core of the suffrage movement was the language in the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These guarantee Americans equal protection under the law and the right to vote regardless of race. Battles by women to be able to vote saw their first victories in the territories of Wyoming and Utah. Idaho and Colorado followed suit.
It wasn’t until 1920 that the right of women to vote in the U.S. was guaranteed by the 19th Amendment.
If America had remained under British rule, women wouldn’t have had that right for another eight years. The arguments from men opposed to suffrage were similar in both countries. Among them was: “Woman suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.”
“If women become involved in politics, they will stop marrying, having children, and the human race will die out,” was another doozy.
Fear of damaging the human race – at the least those with the fairest complexions – was the racially charged argument against inter-racial marriage. It was taboo and illegal in southern states. These laws against interracial marriage were challenged and went all the way to the Supreme Court which struck them down in 1967.
How did America feel about the issue. A poll done in 1972 showed only 29 percent of Americans approved of marriages between a white and black person even though Sydney Poitier movies were cleaning up at the box office. However, by 1991 that approval rate grew to 48 percent and has grown to more than 86 percent today.
Using skin color to determine fitness for matrimony no longer holds tightly to the prejudice and fear of a bygone era – what some conservatives would call “the good old days.”
Those on the right who throw around concepts like “gay agenda” and “well-funded and well-organized” when referring to efforts by lesbian, gay, transexual and bisexual Americans to end prejudice and give them equal freedoms to make major life choices might not like to look at interracial marriage.
They will argue that the two are not the same.
Sure prejudice and discrimination are core issues for both. And religious dogma wound its way into the picture for both. Fear of family collapse became shared calling cards.
But the real way they are the same debunks the nonsense about a liberal media and gay thugs pushing the public around. Public opinion changes over time and societies change with it.
In the span of 22 years public acceptance of interracial marriage grew by 30 percent Acceptance of gay marriage grew by 26 percent in the past 15 years. During the same 15 years, American support for the legalization of pot grew by 22 percent.
Change isn’t driven by evil agendas carried out by the product of a mixed marriage who smoked pot in college.
Gay people are not the real threat to marriages and stable families. Crushing economic pressures, poor schools and dangerous neighborhoods for the poor with a shrinking middle class are. A nation is only as strong as its weakest link and the solution isn’t to toss those links into the garbage heap.
We can ill afford a country littered with Detroits. Football fans wouldn’t stand for it.
So let’s stop fretting about Bob and Jim holding hands and get down to fixing what really ails us — too many of us live in fear.
Terrorists, economics or change all elevate the fear. Politicians don’t help when they say we need to go back in time. We can’t. The future won’t let us — gay or straight.
Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.