With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Oberfegell v. Hodges on June 26 of this past year, the long-standing fight for gay rights finally reached its peak with the national legalization of gay marriage. In comparison to the shift favoring the women’s rights and civil rights movements, which happened gradually over nearly two hundred years, public opinion and legal opinion on gay rights reversed in an historical instant in the 35 years since 1980, and even grew to include mass support of gay marriage, a concept that had never even been seriously considered prior to this period. How did this change happen so rapidly?
As an analysis of polling data, news articles and government documents demonstrates, no singular event, court case, or public policy was fully responsible; rather it was any event that made the LGBT population more visible and therefore more widely understood and tolerated, beginning with the AIDS crisis and extending to legal and non-legal actions. More hidden than other previously marginalized groups, the gay marriage movement gained momentum so quickly because it was launched into public consciousness through the forced unmasking and voluntary coming out of LGBT people. The act of distinguishing themselves through coming out gave LGBT people a continuous way to assert their identity and keep gay rights, including gay marriage, in the news and in people’s minds.
Milone, Abigail. “Seen, But Now Heard: How Increased LGBT Visibility Contributed to Cultural Acceptance of Gay Marriage.” Paper presented at the Phi Alpha Theta Upper New York Regional Conference, Plattsburgh, N.Y., April 30, 2016. http://digitalcommons.plattsburgh.edu/phi_alpha_theta/10.