“Social” Context on Gay Marriage And Social Change
In the comments section of a post on Commonweal about the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage in NY and the perhaps questionable tactics it employed to shore up opposition, one “Luke Hill” offers a powerful suggestion about why attitudes towards gays have changed so much in the past 30 years. (06/23/2011 – 9:13 am comment)
“…but I think it’s almost impossible to underestimate the importance of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s when trying to account for the changed (and changing) public perceptions and opinions about homosexuality. By the thousands, gay men from New York, San Francisco and other big cities went “home” to small towns all across America to die (”home” in quotation marks because they often had fled those towns because they were made to feel unwelcome). The rippling effects of those journeys and those deaths are, I believe, still with us today.
For example, the devout, socially conservative, working-class Franco-American Catholics in the New England mill town I grew up in did what they’ve always done when tragedy strikes one of their own: they baked casseroles for the afflicted families, visited and ran errands, offered novenas and Masses, and helped the families bury their dead. Homosexual acts may be sinful, as the Church teaches, but no young person deserves to die like that was the (sometimes unspoken, but sometimes not) conclusion that many came to.
Also, it’s one thing when watching a story on the evening news about the hundreds of anonymous men in the bath houses of the Castro or Greenwich Village. It’s another thing when someone you watched grow up, went to school with, went to church with, someone you knew and perhaps liked or even loved, is dead or dying. I suspect that this type of lived experience has had a powerful effect on the “sense of the faithful” (but I would defer to the more theologically astute).”
Defenders of traditional marriage have fallen into the trap of demonization and denouncement, antagonizing the people in the middle and even some on their own side who refuse to accept caricatures and the cleaving of the Gospel’s message. More broadly, all too often people merely focused on the politics or faith interplay surrounding a controversial social issue and ignored the “social” altogether, missing the critical evolution in viewpoints that was underway.
A personal aside in support of this: DADT never mattered to me until I came to know a gay sailor who had to hide the grief he was experiencing after his boyfriend of nine years died in a car crash while he was on deployment. He had nowhere and no one to confide in, fearful of being kicked out of the Navy he loved and flourished in if he confided in a Chaplain. When I learned of his plight from his supervisor who had finally gotten the truth out of him after a week of earnest effort, it humanized DADT to an extent no news report, book or documentary could ever have.
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