There is no civil rights movement in the country’s history that has moved further, faster than the gay rights movement.
In 1958, more than nine in 10 of those surveyed in a Gallup Poll opposed marriage between blacks and whites. It took nearly 40 years until a majority of those asked said marriage between people of different skin colors was acceptable.
By contrast, in less than 20 years, attitudes toward same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically. By 2012, half or more agreed, in a series of questions posed by Gallup, that “being gay is morally acceptable, that gay relations ought to be legal and that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to legally marry." In 1996, when Gallup first asked about legalizing same-sex marriage, nearly 7 in 10 Americans were opposed.
Same-sex marriage is just one measurement of attitudes toward gays and lesbians, but it is an important one. Marriage is the rare covenant with broad social, moral, cultural and economic consequence, along with its personal and family obligations.
For supporters of gay rights and same-sex marriage this has been another good week.
On Monday, New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, abandoned his court fight to block same-sex marriage in the Garden State, making it the 14th state in the country to recognize matrimony between gay and lesbian couples. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, there was movement on the issue in three other states, as noted by Stateline.org, a news service that reports on politics and social policy in capitals around the country.
The state supreme courts of Wisconsin and New Mexico on Wednesday took up gay marriage in a pair of cases testing, respectively, the boundaries of “domestic partnership” and whether state law explicitly bans gay matrimony.
In Illinois, lawmakers this week again debated the issue, picking up where the Legislature left off after the state Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill and the House adjourned without voting.
Next week in Hawaii, lawmakers will gather in a special session called by Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie to try to pass same-sex marriage legislation.
And the case in Wisconsin deals with restrictions on, not an expansion of, gay marriage.
Still, the shift in the political dynamic has been striking.
As recently as 2003, not one of the major Democrats running for president was willing to endorse same-sex marriage. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean were among those who endorsed a long list of measures to bar discrimination against homosexuals. Each, however, balked at supporting gay marriage.
Today, with a pro-same-sex marriage Democrat sitting in the White House — albeit one who changed his public position after his first election — it is difficult to imagine any of the party’s 2016 contenders stating their objections.
The more interesting test will come on the Republican side, where Christie’s refusal to continue the legal fight against gay marriage — despite his personal opposition — has already brought condemnation from social conservatives who call his stance capitulation and a sign of the country’s further slide toward moral decay. At this point, none of the top-tier Republicans pondering a presidential run openly supports gay marriage.