How US elites made gay marriage a pillar of establishment orthodoxy
Sodomy was a crime in 49 states of the U.S. at the beginning of the 1970s. Half a century later, a majority of Americans (63%) approve of gay marriage and same-sex marriage is law in all 50 states.
Gallup’s Values and Beliefs poll, conducted from May 1-12, confirms the seismic shift in morality over the last 50 years, with the use of artificial birth control, drinking alcohol and getting a divorce topping the list of the most widely acceptable moral behaviours in the U.S.
At the same time, Americans (77%) overwhelmingly agree that morality in the U.S. is getting worse, according to Gallup.
Gallup first polled Americans about homosexuality in 1977, when gay activists enjoyed momentum from the 1969 Stonewall riots. Then, only 14% of Americans believed that gay people should be allowed to adopt a child. The number of people supporting gay adoption has risen exponentially to 75% in 2019.
The cultural and legal status of homosexuality has experienced one of the most rapid and thorough reversals in American social history.
“The cultural and legal status of homosexuality has experienced one of the most rapid and thorough reversals in American social history,” with homosexuals being transformed “in the blink of an eye” from “outlaw to married citizen,” writes Darel Paul in From Tolerance to Equality: How Elites brought American to Same-Sex Marriage.
Paul is Professor of Political Science at Williams College and his academic research, which neither endorses nor opposes same-sex marriage, is published by Baylor University Press. His goal is to explain what he calls “the great puzzle of the rapid normalization of homosexuality in American society.”
Paul demonstrates how American elites from medical and legal professionals to corporate managers and clergy, used “opinion on homosexuality as a mark of social distinction and thus as a tool for accumulating cultural authority and political power,” culminating with Barack Obama becoming the first president to interpret same-sex marriage as a “dogmatic element of the American creed.”
Paul defines ‘elite’ or ‘establishment’ as those with the highest concentration of both economic and cultural capital—the latter defined by having least a four-year bachelor’s degree—with the three central social institutions of medicine, law, and religion qualifying for this bracket.
He notes that it was only in 2011 that a majority of Americans favoured same-sex marriage for the first time and until 2012, all 31 states that held a marriage referendum had rejected same-sex marriage.
Even President Bill Clinton opposed same-sex marriage when he signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, defining marriage as a strictly opposite-sex institution.
Not a single Republican senator voted against the legislation; in the House of Representatives only homosexual Republican Steven Gunderson voted against it.
Democrats strongly supported DOMA (Nancy Pelosi an exception among leading Democrats) with House members voting in favour by a nearly two-to-one margin (118-65) and Senate Democrats surpassing that mark (32-14).
A major strategy for normalizing gay marriage was for progressives to subvert the liberal language of ‘tolerance’ with their vocabulary of ‘equality.’
A major strategy for normalizing gay marriage was for progressives to subvert the liberal language of ‘tolerance’ with their vocabulary of ‘equality.’ By 2011, the phrase “marriage equality” was everywhere and the leftist-elitist New York Times abandoned the term ‘tolerance’ and did not use it once that year.
“The shift from toleration to equality involves a transformation in moral judgment. Toleration asks for public neutrality while allowing ample room for private disapproval.” However, equality is altogether different and “demands public affirmation backed by state power and restricts the private scope for negative judgement to the narrowest range possible,” explains Paul.
Paul describes how the moral and cultural dominoes began to fall when one of America’s most elite bodies, the American Psychiatric Association, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973.
“The mental health professions proved the true pioneers of normalization. This is profoundly ironic in light of their historic role in suppression homosexuality,” he writes.
In 1975, the American Psychological Association not only endorsed the APA’s change, but moved beyond it, advocating for normalizing homosexuality.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) followed in 1976 with a task force dedicated to eradicating prejudice and discrimination against homosexuals in all areas of public life.
In 1979, NASW made sexual orientation a protected characteristic and by 1990 it had led all three mental health organisations in supporting the normalization of gays in the military and condemning ‘reparative therapies.’
In 1981, the American Medical Association (AMA) repeated this pattern and rejected its own earlier endorsement of reparative therapies. After seven failed attempts at lobbying it finally caved in and included sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy. In 1994, it erased homosexuality from its list of treatable disorders.
No denomination having one-third or fewer members with four-year degrees has normalized homosexuality or is even seriously discussing doing so.
“Legal professionals travelled a similar if slower path from chief regulators and suppressors of homosexuality to ardent social champions of normalization,” says Paul. Between 1969 and 1983 over 30 states erased sodomy from the statues.
The legal profession’s campaign for normalization was so thorough that in 2003 Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called out “the law profession’s anti-anti-homosexual culture.”
In 2011, the U.S. military ended its policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a number of the largest Protestant denominations beginning with the United Church of Christ began normalizing homosexuality by ordaining openly gay ministers and offering same-sex blessings or a full rite of marriage.
The denominations include the Unitarian Universalist Association, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Disciples of Christ (who endorsed sexually active LGBT clergy in 2013).
No denomination having one-third or fewer members with four-year degrees has normalized homosexuality or is even seriously discussing doing so, Paul notes.
By the first half decade of the 21st century, the corporate world of managerial elites had become one of the country’s most significant forces for normalization.
In 1994, only 19 Fortune 500 corporations were targeting LGBT consumers. By 2005, over 175 (including socially conservative Walmart) were intentionally positioning their products at the gay community and by 2000 corporate sponsorship of LGBT organizations and events had become the norm.
Gallup’s most recently poll shows how Americans have, in the words of President Obama, “evolved” on same-sex marriage and the morality of gay relationships.
Strong support among young adults is likely to propel this percentage higher and the fate of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, an Episcopalian in an openly gay relationship, will be a strong indicator as to what the future holds for the American acceptance of same-sex marriage.