In June, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, provoking an ideologically divisive dialogue throughout the nation and in the Austin community.
Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported on a recently released Associated Press-GfK poll that “found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.”
Recently, I took to the streets to gauge how residents in Austin feel about the court’s ruling. Since I believe Austin is a religious community fundamentally rooted in traditional Christian values, I had expected the general consensus to be staunch opposition to the ruling. Much to my surprise, while there were those who voiced opposition to the ruling, many Austin residents I spoke with were openly in support of civil rights for all — especially same-sex couples who want to marry.
Some people preferred to remain anonymous, or that I use pseudonyms when quoting them, for this story.
The Berns, a couple in their 80s, devoted Catholics and traditionally married for over 50 years, are nonetheless supportive of the court’s ruling.
“I say to each his own. People should be allowed to marry whomever they want. Love is love, and the government should not try to limit a citizen’s right to marry,” said Mrs. Bern.
Sam, 52, was concerned about what he would tell his 19-year-old daughter about same-sex marriage.
“I grew up in a heterosexual family. My father was a man and my mother was a woman,” he said. “When they kissed in public or held hands, no one made fun of them or called them names. With this marriage equality thing, the gays will become more open in public and children will become confused as to what is right and wrong.”
“I don’t really care who someone marries,” said Ethel Smith. “If it’s to a consenting adult, then there is nothing wrong with it. The good thing about this law is now people can’t legally discriminate, saying we don’t serve gays here or you can’t stay it. Truth be told, that was the kind of discrimination that blacks faced and sometimes still face all over this country.”
John Jones, 42, was explicit in his opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual couples.
“They are going to burn in hell. Everyone who has anything to do with that is going to burn in hell. It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” he said.
I also spoke with several young people who are openly gay or bisexual and involved in same-sex relationships; in addition to young people who are involved in same-sex relationships, but are not openly gay. They talked about the issues surrounding their lifestyles and were optimistic that this ruling might help reduce the high rate of suicide in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.
“If teens could talk openly to their families, maybe they can get them to understand it’s not just a phase,” said 26-year-old Matt Dozier. “When I came out to my mother, she said, ‘Why didn’t you just jump in front of a bus? That would be less painful.’ For who? I asked. You mean you would rather I was dead?”