Saturday, October 27, 2018

Peter Hart-Brinson's "The Gay Marriage Generation"

Peter Hart-Brinson is Associate Professor of Sociology and Communication/Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Gay Marriage Generation: How the LGBTQ Movement Transformed American Culture, and reported the following:
I have to say, page 99 is far from my favorite page in the book, but it does get at the book’s essence. In The Gay Marriage Generation, I explain the historic and unprecedented rise of gay marriage in the United States. I show how young cohorts who reached adulthood after 1992 came of age imagining sexuality as an identity—who you are—rather than a behavior—what you do. And I provide historical, quantitative, and qualitative evidence to show how that generational change caused public support for gay marriage to increase so quickly.

Page 99 only alludes to that, via a discussion of the culture wars. Gay marriage was one of the two main battles in America’s culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s. And unlike abortion, in which the two sides are fairly entrenched and reproduce themselves over time, gay marriage ended in a decisive victory for the supporters. The reason is because of generational change: as older Americans who thought of homosexuality as a behavior died off, they were replaced in the population by younger Americans who imagined homosexuality as an identity.

It took two decades for this combination of births and deaths—what social scientists call cohort replacement—to produce majority support among the American electorate. But once it happened, gay marriage supporters began winning victory after victory. Thus, I wrote, “because cohort replacement is continually strengthening one side and weakening the other, we begin to see why the culture war—as loud and intractable as the fighting seems—ended so quietly and so suddenly.”

For a time in American politics, the culture wars seemed like they would never end. But there’s nothing inevitable about them. They arose under particular historical conditions; they were sustained by how the political and religious groups on each side argued against one another; and the actions of the LGBTQ movement that caused the gay marriage generation to emerge brought one front in the war to a close.

With the resolution of the gay marriage debate, the battleground has shifted slightly: to issues of transgender rights, among other things. But the political power of the religious orthodox in the U.S. has evaporated with the rise of Trump and his brand of xenophobic nationalism. It’s hard to fathom how the Religious Right’s claim to the moral high ground will survive the fact that they have turned a blind eye to President Trump’s moral failings—from putting babies in cages to extramarital affairs with porn stars. But it’s equally hard to fathom a more peaceful political future.
Learn more about The Gay Marriage Generation at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue