Sex and relationships: How Americans perceive same-sex marriage in a changing world

Posted by Katherine Marrone on Monday, Feb. 4 at 8:20 am.

When Matt Friday’s mother heard that her son was dating a man, Bruce Carlson, his mother forbade them from holding hands in her home. Friday, unable to accept his mother’s adversity, countered with an ultimatum: “You can either have us holding hands, or not have us at all.”

It was this strength evident in Friday’s interaction with his mother that guided and fueled his and Carlson’s love. The two men met at a gay bar in Monterey, Calif. on Feb. 15, 1986 while out to dinner with friends. After Friday gushed about Carlson’s “beautiful eyes,” they had their first kiss. Twenty-six years later, they find themselves living in Eugene, Ore. with a past rich with love, acceptance and strength. Yet, there is something Friday and Carlson wish they could do, something they believe will solidify their union even more.

Matt Friday and Bruce Carlson want to get married.

And, now, more than ever before, this seems possible. On November 6, 2012 three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — became the first to approve same-sex marriage according to the popular vote; while in Minnesota, a state where marriage between gay men and lesbian women has not been legalized, voters rejected an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Prior to this date, same-sex marriage had been legalized in six states in our country: Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

It’s likely that Oregon, in the next few years, will be added to this list. Despite the fact that local gay rights activists made the decision to not add same-sex marriage to the Oregon ballot on election day, many Oregonians are hopeful for the future. And rightfully so — it is possible that a ballot measure for same-sex marriage will be implemented in Oregon as soon as 2014. With an accelerated momentum brought on by the successes in Maine, Maryland and Washington, the legalization of same-sex marriage in other American states appears even more plausible.

But why now?

“What’s happening is the shifting of attitudes,” Carlson said. “People who have been brutalized, compromised, denied rights, are starting to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be part of that group, I want to be over here where we have a right to get married.’”

This shifting of attitudes is largely due to the younger American population, a generation more comfortable with gay marriage than ever before. In Maryland, for instance, 70 percent of voters 18-29 years old voted to legalize same-sex marriage, while only 36 percent of voters over 65 did — creating a 34-percent age gap. In Maine, 68 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 voted to legalize gay marriage, while only 44 percent of voters over 65 did.

The age gap dividing voters applies not only to same-sex marriage legalization, but also to the presidential election. This year, 60 percent of voters between 18-29 years of age voted for President Obama, while only 44 percent of voters over 65 did.

This divide among American voters, Friday suggests, means society is edging away from an autocratic government. “People are realizing that you do not get to go in as an authoritarian and say, ‘We’re making the decisions here about what’s happening in your private life,’” he said. “The fact that we have turned everything into this fight about sexuality really completely misses the boat, in my opinion, about what it means to be human.”

With a total of nine states allowing marriage for same-sex couples, and the replacement of a traditional elderly generation with a progressive youth, the spread of legalization of gay marriage seems inevitable. The more liberal people become, the further our ideals and morals change along with it.

Today, it’s hard to believe there was a time in which women couldn’t vote for their own president. It’s difficult to imagine a society in which black and white people had to drink from separate water fountains. It’s puzzling to think that at one time black people and white people couldn’t get married.

One day it may also seem just as strange, to our grandchildren, to our great-grandchildren, to our great-great-grandchildren, that America was once a country in which two people in a committed, loving relationship could be denied the right to get married because of their gender. It may seem silly to future generations that two men that have been together for over twenty years, like Matt Friday and Bruce Carlson, aren’t free to prove their love to society, their country, to themselves — through the sanctity of marriage.

  • Steve Earley

    It’s inevitable. There’s always a side resisting equality, wanting people who are “different” to not have access to the same happiness (i.e. minorities, women and gays), but historically that side is always the losing side. Always in the wrong, and quite self-evidently so to future generations. It’s as if we have blind spots that we are systematically ferreting out, becoming more “authentic” in how we treat others, and there’s never any question of whether or not we’ve done the right thing once we’ve overcome our blindness. Good stuff. =)