Gays Remain the Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes
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This was not always so. In 2003, the legalization of same-sex marriage in most of Canada, plus the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of anti-gay sodomy laws in 13 states and a court decision in Massachusetts against gay marriage bans, produced a major backlash. By 2008, fueled by the anti-gay rhetoric and political organizing of religious-right groups, at least 40 states and the federal government had adopted constitutional bans or laws against same-sex marriages.
Since then, the record has been mixed. But it’s clear that public support for same-sex marriage — and opposition to its religious opponents — is on the rise.
Five states now allow same-sex marriage, and another three recognize such unions from other states. California allowed them for some months in 2008, but the Proposition 8 referendum ended that — until a federal judge this fall overturned the proposition, saying it discriminated unconstitutionally against homosexuals. A 2006 federal bill that would have prohibited states from recognizing same-sex marriage failed. By this August, according to a Roper poll, a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage for the first time. The poll found that 52% said the federal government should recognize such marriages (up from 46% in 2009), and 58% said same-sex couples should be entitled to the same benefits as other couples.
An earlier Gallup poll, released in May 2010, had similar results. It found that Americans now see gay relationships as “morally acceptable” by a 52% to 43% margin — compared to a 55% to 38% unfavorable view just eight years earlier. Every demographic group within the data set grew more accepting — Catholics, for instance, polled as 62% favorable, compared to 46% four years ago.
This fall’s mid-term elections were the first since the 1990s with no measures to ban gay marriage on any state ballot, according to The Associated Press. And although same-sex marriage was an issue at press time in four gubernatorial races, the AP reported, Democratic candidates in Rhode Island and California were vying to become the fourth and fifth openly gay members of Congress.
“We’ve reached a tipping point this year,” said Wayne Besen, founder of TruthWinsOut.com, which monitors the anti-gay right. “The religious right is losing some of its steam. We’re going to win this issue quicker than people think.”
It may not be only gay rights advocates who think so. Last February, after founder James Dobson retired and pastor Jim Daly took over, Focus on the Family — for years, the powerhouse organization of the anti-gay religious right — markedly softened its anti-gay rhetoric. Daly began meeting with gay rights activists, ended the ministry’s controversial “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, and even suggested that legalized same-sex marriage might not be a disaster.
“I will continue to defend traditional marriage, but I’m not going to demean human beings for the process,” Daly told an interviewer. “I want to express respect for everyone, all human beings. It’s not about being highly confrontational.”
It is in just such situations — when long-held societal notions about blacks, Latinos, Catholics, homosexuals or other minorities are shifting — that violent backlashes often set in. As groups like Focus on the Family have moderated their positions on homosexuality, a hard core of anti-gay groups, sensing they are being politically marginalized, seem to be growing angrier and more radical still.
The reaction of Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute, may be illustrative. Upon hearing of Daly’s moves, she said the Focus on the Family leader was showing “surprising naïveté,” adding that he instead “better figure out how to stop the pro-homosexual juggernaut.” As to his comments about refusing to “demean human beings,” Higgins said, “The language employed by Mr. Daly here is the kind of language commonly employed by … homosexualists.”