Americans are thinking, talking about same-sex marriage whether we like it or not

Just try reading or listening to the news without coming across reports about the two U.S. Supreme Court cases this week involving challenges to the California voter initiative that prohibited same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Wedding cakeControversial and monumental for sure. The controversy might be a key player in what appears to be a sea change in public opinion now in support of marriage equality. During interviews in 2003, many Americans indicated they had given little to no thought to the idea of same-sex marriage, said Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell, whose research examines public opinion about family. But then the issue because a hot political topic.

“There was so much news and so many anti-same-sex marriage campaigns,” said Powell, author of “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2010). “They took an idea that wasn’t even imaginable, but ultimately, as people thought about it, they moved from lack of support to ‘Why not?'”

Public support has completely flipped in just 10 years, much speedier than Powell would have expected – even though he thought acceptance was inevitable for several reasons, including simple demographics. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, as reported in Slate, said it well when writing about her support for gay marriage in Tumblr. “Good people disagree with me,” she wrote on Sunday. “On the other hand, my children have a hard time understanding why this is even controversial. I think history will agree with my children.”

We won’t know the outcome of the hearings until possibly this summer. Meanwhile, this IU tipsheet for the media includes more insights from Powell about his public opinion research. It also includes insights from family law experts from the IU Maurer School of Law, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

Steve Sanders, an associate professor at the Maurer School of Law, wrote in the Michigan Law Review about the constitutional basis for legally married same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized in states where laws prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages. He wrote about the issue in the Supreme Court of the United States Blog. A year ago he wrote “Are We Ready for a Real National Conversation on Same-Sex Marriage?” in the Huffington Post. Sanders also is affiliated with the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and with the Department of Gender Studies. Former U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who struck down California’s same-sex marriage ban that is before the Supreme Court, is featured in this video taken at a 2011 event at the Maurer School of Law.

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