Will We See Full Acceptance of Gays in the Next Decade?

In our "Question of the Day" feature for this year's Ideas Special Report, our readers tackle some of the emerging issues that are defining our time.

The Ideas ReportIn our July/August 2011 issue, Jonathan Rauch explores the idea that homosexuality, rather than existing on the moral fringes of society, is more accepted than ever. Rauch imagines that, for anti-gay activists battling against equal rights for homosexuals, the tone of America's culture wars may shift from casting homosexuals as unwanted outcasts to framing them as ideological bullies, threatening the nation's heterosexual minority.

Perhaps this had to happen: the straight-rights movement is here. No, it does not call itself that. (Yet.) But opponents of same-sex marriage, and others who are unfriendly to the gay-rights movement, have adopted the posture of a victim group. They are, it seems...an oppressed majority.

The backstory is this: Until recently, and for as long as pollsters at Gallup have thought to ask, a clear majority of Americans regarded homosexual relations as morally wrong. the entire superstructure of anti-gay sentiment and policy stood upon that foundation of opprobrium. In 2008, however, the lines crossed, with as many Americans (48 percent_ telling Gallup that gay and lesbian relations are "morally acceptable" as said they are "morally wrong." And in 2010, for the first time, an outright majority, 52 percent, called homosexuality morally acceptable, with only 43 percent condemning it. From here, the level of opprobrium is likely only to shrink.

While American courts rarely aspire to fall lockstep with public opinion, the recent course of the contested Proposition 8 legislation banning gay marriage in California suggests that the legal and political institutions of the United States may be on a path towards greater acceptance for homosexuals. Atlantic correspondent Andrew Cohen notes that, while support for Prop 8 among many Californians is still strong, the case for the reinstating the law is thin, predicated on ruling judge Vaughn Walker's personal politics than any coherent legal logic. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a long-time symbol of the status of homosexuals in the eyes of the government, further suggests that fissures are appearing in the institutional barriers for gays and lesbians in America.

Question of the Day: With this shift in gay-straight relations in the past several years, will we see full acceptance for gays -- legal, political, and social -- in the next decade?

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