How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gays

Over at the wonderfully-named Iranian Redneck blog, Darren Sherkat highlights some fascinating data from the General Social Survey. The chart covers public opinion from 1973 through 2012. The blue bar represents people who describe "homosexual sex relations" as "always wrong"; the red bar shows the people who say such relations are "not wrong at all."

When America realized that Waylon Smithers was gay, it just couldn't hold onto its prejudices anymore.

The image pretty much speaks for itself. Note that the turning point comes in the early 1990s. The comment thread is open for speculations about why the floodgates would open at that particular time. Bear in mind that politics and pop culture tend to follow trends rather than setting them, though they can reinforce a trend once it's already underway.

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  • R C Dean||

    Despite my discontent with the legal/Constitutional arguments for mandatory issuance/recognition of gay marriage, I find this to be unalloyed good news.

  • anon||

    I don't think it's all unalloyed. More white wimmins being ok with teh gay means more potential threesomes.

    So yeah, win-win.

  • ||

    Needing more MMF in your life anon?

  • anon||

    damn. Not what I was thinking in my head. You got me.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    That tracks, almost exactly, my evolving opinion about sodomy.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It appears to take a swing right around the time Mr. Roper died.

  • John||

    You leave Mr. Roper alone. He was part of the Rat Pack.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In that case, maybe it's around the time Norman Fell died inside.

  • John||

    Norman Fell was awesome. He was in Oceans 11 and Catch 22. The poor guy takes a single paycheck to be on a sitcom and is marked for life. I hate Television.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Don't you speak ill of television. You can blame the late 70's/early 80's if you like, but don't you dare blame television.

  • deified||

    Mr. Roper Mr. Furley.

    And Three's Company = Awesome.

    I poop on your head over and over.

  • deified||

    There is a "greater than" sign between Roper and Furley.

    Fucking Hit 'n Run.

  • some guy||

    I blame the rise of Grunge music.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    The first ten years can be explained by Elton John albums. It took a while for gay support to return after Rock of the Westies, though Queen's performances leading up to Live Aid seem to have had a temporary counteractive effect.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I was actually thing gay 90's music was the reason for the increase. Incidently, when did MTV stop doing videos? Was that 90?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    It looks like the emergence of the widespread availability of lesbian pron is at play here.

  • ||

    You joke, but that's probably a big factor.

  • $park¥||

    Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love got married in 1992.

  • John||

    If anything will sell a man on the value of being gay, it is the thought of being married to Courtney Love.

  • kinnath||

    Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

  • Professional Target||

    and sometimes the humidor isn't a humidor.

  • Drake||

    How I don't give a damn about gay sex or marriage. I just don't want the federal government further fucked up with anti or pro-gay marriage bad legislation.

  • John||

    Yeah. Leave it to the states.

  • Professional Target||

    How about we just get government out of marriage?

  • John||

    Sure, right after we get the government out of the dispute solving business. So long as people disagree about how to end marriages and so long as their are kids and assets to be divided, the government will be in the marriage business.

  • $park¥||

    So get the government out of the dispute solving business then.

  • John||

    And replace it with what? Trial by combat?

  • kinnath||

    Seemed to work OK for Tyrion.

  • mr simple||

    *SPOILER ALERT* Eh, half the time.

  • np||

    Sure, why not, if people agree to it.

    Otherwise, their job is properly providing means of dispute arbitration, not actually solving disputes by fiat declaration.

    You can lay down nominal rules that will be referred to for situations that are not specified nor can be inferred by the contracts people engage it, such as dividing assets 50/50 IF there is absolutely nothing to go by in a marriage contract.

    Otherwise, it's simply arbitration by contracts and negotiation--which includes, yes, trial by combat if the parties involved really wanted it and could not resolve their differences--and if we had that situation, most people would be more careful and forward thinking in marriage contracts and all sorts of personal contracts, just like we do today in business contracts.

  • sarcasmic||

    Dispute solving is one of the few legitimate functions of government.

    The whole reason why prohibition results in violence is because black market disputes can not be solved in court.

  • anon||

    But violence is illegal; therefore prohibition obviously doesn't cause any problems whatsoever. It's true, I read it on the internet.

  • R C Dean||

    There is a difference between government as gatekeeper for licensing, and government as arbiter of disputes. Just because government can have a role as enforcer of contracts doesn't mean it must necessarily have a role as issuer of licenses.

  • robc||

    And part of being an enforcer of contracts is not setting the terms for those contracts.

    No-fault divorce laws, for example, go exactly against the entire concept of being an arbiter of disputes. The government is specifically abrogating its responsibility as arbiter.

  • robc||

    They get resolve contracts in court. They dont have to issue licenses.

    Ive entered plenty of contracts in which the parties werent specifically licensed.

  • Zeb||

    I tend to agree that government is not getting out of marriage for the reasons John mentions. Just have government stop using the word marriage and allow any two adults to enter into a civil union, or whatever you want to call it, and it should settle down. And stop with the licensing. The very idea of a marriage license has always seemed quite absurd to me.

  • anon||

    John, that's just stupid. Just because the government didn't issue the contract doesn't mean in can't be the arbiter of justice should a party fail to uphold the contract.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    It's AIDS awareness.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Sherkat points out that the "always wrong" total goes up a bit when AIDS really hits during the '80s.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Yeah, but the higher profile deaths happened later. I guess I should specifically say, "Freddie Mercury".

  • ||

    AIDS forced a lot of people out of the closet. It certainly helped shift momentum on the issue.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, it seems like AIDS briefly increased anti-gay sentiment when it was new and scary and seemed to be gay specific to a large extent. But once people got used to AIDS and figured out what it really was it probably helped increase sympathy and acceptance.

  • anon||

    I didn't know you got used to AIDS.

  • ||

    I blame Queer Eye and Bravo in general.

  • Mensan||

    And HGTV. The home improvement and house hunting shows disproportionately feature homosexual couples. 4% of the population identifies as homosexual, but it seems like every third episode of those shows has a gay couple on it.

  • SumpTump||

    Sometimes dude, you jsut have to roll with ti. Wow.

    www.GoinAnon.da.bz

  • Broseph of Invention||

    Which TI should I be rolling with, anonbot? 83? 83+? 89? Spill the deets!

  • anon||

    No, he means TI, the rapper.

  • kinnath||

    First Lesbian FLOTUS

  • ||

    How does Eleanor Roosevelt have anything to do with this?

  • kinnath||

    Oops. Forgot that one.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Just a couple minor observations.

    First off, this shows that the public hasn't been growing more libertarian, in the sense of "I don't like this but I don't want to invoke the law against it." It's more like "I don't see a problem with this behavior, *therefore* the law should neither forbid it or even discriminate against it." The fundamental premise that the government can ban that which we don't like remains intact, the question is over the definition of "things which we don't like."

    Second off, this doesn't explain the growing support for gay marriage. The "leave it alone" impulse would explain how sodomy as such is no longer a crime, but it doesn't explain how the public is getting to support equal legal status for same-sex relationships vis-a-vis opposite sex relationships.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    To explain this, I would hypothesize a couple things. First is that the Sexual Revolution has already legitimized so many interesting hetero kinks that adding room for same-sex kinks doesn't seem so radical

    Another point I would hypothesize has to do with modern parenting. In the old days, if your kid was mad at you and hated you because you didn't like what (s)he was doing, that simply meant you had to be stricter. Nowadays, though, if you deny your kids something and they scream and yell and say how much they hate you - and how much you must hate them - that means maybe you simply haven't loved your kids enough, because if you loved them they would like you. So to prove your love you grant their demands. Likewise with the people who want the government to give them SSM licenses and the power to coerce private businesses to recognize their relationships - if you love them, you must grant your demands to show you're not a hater.

  • box_man||

    My theory is this: Prior to the 1990's being gay was about being queer and pursuing an alternative lifestyle. Gays didn't have an overwhelming desire to even be in a "traditional marriage". At some point though more gays decided that it would be better to integrate into society and started pursuing the idea that gay wasn't alternative, it was the same as traditional. That idea has played much better with the public.

    In fact in the most ironic of twists, the gays have succeeded in tightening the definition of marriage even further than before. Instead of exploring the idea that marriage can be whatever consenting adults want including pluralistic or a close relation marriage they have canonized the idea that marriage is between 2 and only 2 people. Sad really that something that once cut against the grain of society and pushed more individual freedom has become the tool for the state to tighten its grip and limit freedoms.

  • anon||

    The fundamental premise that the government can ban that which we don't like remains intact, the question is over the definition of "things which we don't like."

    And that's my dispute with this common argument. I believe it's precisely because people are diving into their own little worlds that they don't see the need for government intervention with shit nobody cares about; which, lets face it, is most shit.

  • Robert S||

    Anatomy of a brainwashing. We'll see charts like this for child-fucking in 50 years.

  • anon||

    Calling Elmo on that one. Google it up in 50 years.

  • ||

    I totally agree Robert, the ageism has to stop!

    How can we as a society support consensual adult behavior, and not extend our love of freedom to the people who we deem to be legally incompetent minors!?

  • anon||

    because ... because ... FAGS! THAT'S WHY!

  • ||

    Blast, I knew there was something I was forgetting.

  • robc||

    Right around 1990 is when I decided that state licensing of marriage needed to end.

    I think there is a correlation (but not causation).

  • 21044||

    About 1990 is when parents of the children of the 60s and 70s started to kick off in droves. Maybe so much a changing of individuals' minds, but a changing of the population being sampled.

  • Virginia Biker||

    My suggestion why the floodgates opened when they did. Gays began loudly demanding the right to marry and to serve openly in the military. You can't get more mainstream than that. Gays began affirming The American Way of Life. No more advocacy of gay promiscuity as the model for heteros; no more names like The Gay Liberation Front.

  • anon||

    I blame the internet. Once everyone called each other fags all day, we all learned to not really care about fags anymore.

    Also, porn.

  • anon||

    In 1990 I saw my first gay porn. Older brother left it in the VCR. I'm claiming causation; prove me wrong!

  • ||

    Did your family know beforehand or was the porn a really awkward coming out moment for everyone?

  • anon||

    Actually I didn't tell anyone except my brother. Wasn't really old enough at the time to consider any of the social implications it might've caused for my brother had I been more knowledgeable about the social stigma of gayness.

    Yet more evidence of ignorance = bliss. Unfortunately, that means Tony must be the happiest asshole on earth.

  • anon||

    Or maybe more evidence of "mind your own fucking business" is a motto worth living by.

  • ||

    Wow, he's lucky. In 1990 that would've been an extra hard thing to deal with.

  • lap83||

    "Bear in mind that politics and pop culture tend to follow trends rather than setting them"

    I strongly disagree with this. Politics is ABOUT trying to change minds. Pop culture is determined by a proportionally small amount of the population who is nevertheless as good or better with marketing than politicians. Unless your views are influenced by a community that deliberately tries to avoid politics and pop culture, your views are going to be molded by political and cultural agents like school/TV/media/coworkers/etc.

  • OldMexican||

    How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gays


    I would argue that the graph would continue to be predominantly on the anti-gay side if gays hadn't decided to become less flamboyant and more mainstream. I see the graph not so much a change in heart of most Americans but a rational cultural shift among gay men and women.

  • ||

    I don't think they were necessarily "becoming" less flamboyant and more mainstream, so much as the less flamboyant and more mainstream ones started coming out of the closet more often as time went on.

  • Tony||

    You mean the media stopped portraying gays exclusively as stereotypes.

  • box_man||

    I would expect that the release of DSM IV in 1994 which changed how the psychiatric profession viewed homosexuality had some effect as well.

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