Hart-Brinson, Peter. “The Gay Marriage Generation: How the LGBTQ Movement Transformed American Culture”, NYU Press, 2018.
The Unprecedented Shift Toward Support for Gay Marriage
While having a conversation with a couple of my gay friends from my generation the other day, the talk moved to the many changes in the way we live and how we are perceived today and we all agree that none of us thought we would ever live to see what we are seeing now in our LGBT community. I believe that is true for most of us including those who have been on the front lines. I realized that I have been something of an activist for about 55 years and that’s a long time to wait for change but we surely got it.
It is hard to know when the attitudes toward gay marriage began to change but they did so rapidly and we see that Peter Hart-Brinson interviewed people from multiple generations to assess the shifting meanings surrounding gay marriage. We have quantitative studies that allow us to track these changing attitudes in a simplistic way, but we really never get to the complexity of the issue. This is where Hart-Brinson breaks through allowing us to understand why resistance to gay marriage remains steadfast, even in the face of growing consensus. We know that change comes slowly particularly with regard to public opinion.
However, regarding same-sex marriage, we have an exception in that public opinion dramatically moved from strong opposition to strong support in a very short period of time. We are really not sure how to explain this. Using insights from historical data, national surveys, and interviews, Hart-Brinson skillfully and convincingly shows the role of generations in effecting change. We now must look at the assumptions we have held as to how social change occurs.
I believe that even twenty years ago, we could not have thought that there would be gay marriage in this country. For those of us who came out before Stonewall and had to deal with many social problems, harassment and even arrest, it was really hard to believe that we now have the same rights as all other citizens and the fact that someone can be convicted of hate crime for treating us unfairly is miraculous. Even the greatest opponents to same-sex marriage began to understand its inevitability.
Through 95 interviews with Americans of to generations along with the analysis of historical facts and public opinion data, Hart-Brinson reaches the conclusion that “a fundamental shift in our understanding of homosexuality sparked the generational change that fueled gay marriage’s unprecedented rise.” We see that the LGBTQ movement’s evolution and tactical responses to oppression caused Americans to rethink what it means to be gay and what gay marriage would mean to society at large. Older generations grew up seeing gays and lesbians in terms of their behavior while younger generations understand them in terms of their identity. As time passed, as the older generation and their ideas slowly passed away and were replaced by a new generational culture that brought gay marriage to all fifty states.
Through interviews, Hart-Brinson looks at “how different age groups embrace, resist, and create society’s changing ideas about gay marriage. Religion, race, contact with gay people, and the power of love are all topics that weave in and out of these fascinating accounts, sometimes influencing opinions in surprising ways.” It is important to note that the book “captures a wide range of voices from diverse social backgrounds at a critical moment in the culture wars, right before the turn of the tide.” The story of gay marriage’s rapid rise gives us profound insights about ‘how the continuous remaking of the population through birth and death, mixed with our personal, biographical experiences of our shared history and culture, produces a society that is continually in flux and constantly reinventing itself anew.”
Before gay marriage became the law of the land, I had moved to Boston and I was completely amazed at the differences in the way the LGBT community is regarded here as to be compared with the very small and very closet LGBT community of Little Rock, Arkansas where I moved from. I would sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure it was real. Now, it is real for all of us.