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In June of 2015, same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. For decades, gay Americans had been living in domestic partnerships and were unable to express their relationships in the same way that heterosexual partners could in the eyes of the law. With this major social change came a mixture of support and backlash. Those in same-sex partnerships could finally marry, but at what cost? In 2015, about 40 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage (Mitchell, 2017). Even though it is now legal, many Americans still have negative feelings toward gay marriage, which may affect the function of society.
Although this event happened in the United States, it seems to have set off a domino effect around the globe. Since 2015, many countries have legalized same-sex marriage, including Colombia, Germany, Finland, Australia, Ireland, and Malta (Mitchell, 2017). For some of these countries, however, this social reform did not occur peacefully overnight. In Australia, talk of legalizing same-sex marriage was met with angry “Straight Lives Matter” protests (Cooper, 2017). These events demonstrate that the legalization of gay marriage all over the world came about by deviating from the social norm. The traditional functionalist perceives marriage to be between a man and a woman, and as an institution for the purpose of financial stability and reproduction. Once people began to advocate for an alternative to this and started to deviate, they were often met with negative sanctions in the form of isolation, harassment, judgement, or even legal punishment. But continuing to break these norms pushed societal boundaries to snap, ultimately changing the laws.
The feminist perspective also explains the legalization of same-sex marriage. Feminists believe in equality of the sexes and sexual freedom, and oppose the functionalist belief that marriage between a man and woman is necessary to maintain social order. Feminists do not agree with the idea that the wife’s role in her marriage is to take care of the husband and home, and therefore do not support the traditional hierarchy that this institution puts in place (Guerrero, 2008). Therefore, the proactive legislation in favor of the LGBT community is celebrated by many feminists.
It is apparent that with social reform comes many different reactions from individuals within society. However, research shows that an increase in education about LGBT issues and personal contact with those who identify as lesbian or gay is positively correlated with tolerance for gay marriage (Hart-Brinson, 2016). By understanding that ignorance is a large part of the reluctance behind supporting same-sex marriage, perhaps society can implement more opportunities for LGBT issues to be taught and discussed. For example, sex education in America is predominantly based on heterosexual relationships (Jones, 2015). If young adults are exposed to ideas about the LGBT community in an educational setting, it may allow them to feel more tolerant and accepting of what has not traditionally been the social norm for many years.
In addition to educating the public, enforcement of the laws put in place to protect LGBT individuals is crucial in order to prevent harassment and violence that has erupted from this social change. Of all hate crimes reported in 2016, nearly 17 percent were based on a bias of sexual orientation (“Victims”, 2016). Hate crimes are handled differently state-by-state, and it can be very tricky to actually label a crime as bias-related if a motive is not explicit. Many hate crimes that do not have witnesses or concrete evidence to prove a prejudice-related motive are impossible to label as what they are, which can let perpetrators off with a lesser sentence. This may also prevent people from reporting hate crimes, which can limit the public’s knowledge about how prevalent these occurrences truly are. Research indicates that more than half of hate crimes in the United States go unreported due to distrust in the law enforcement system (Gurman & Contreras, 2017). In order to keep the LGBT community safe, current hate crime legislation needs to be examined for potential flaws.
The legalization of same-sex marriage is a prime example of how society can evolve when its members deviate from the social norm and push for reform. It rejects the functionalist perspective of the traditional institution of marriage and promotes less gendered legislation. Feminist aspects of sexual freedom and non-traditional marriage support this change. However, not everyone is completely on board. With social change comes an adjustment period, and hopefully this new norm initiates other necessary changes in education and legislation that promotes the acceptance and safety of the LGBT community.
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