During his second inaugural address Jan. 21, 2013, President Barack Obama made history. Never before has an American president argued for the legalization of same-sex marriage or called for gay rights during an inaugural address.
In his speech, Obama said that same-sex marriage must be legalized in order to move the country forward.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.
Obama’s historic stance represents a larger trend of Democratic politicians now favoring and pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Matt Grossman, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University, said a dramatic positive shift in public opinion caused this shift which forced politicians to change their stance on same-sex marriage.
He said the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage wasn’t controversial at first because the majority of Americans were completely opposed to the idea.
Since then, there has been a slow trend towards more support in both the public and politicians for the legalization of same-sex marriage, said Grossmann.
“Today, people are now overwhelmingly for gay marriage,” Grossmann said. “Most of the activism comes from those who are for gay marriage, not the other side.”
One way students show their support for gay rights at MSU is through joining the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) caucuses in their residence halls.
Members of the LGBT caucuses work towards educating the student body on issues faced by the LGBT community.
James Madison freshman Kaitlyn Beyer, Case Hall representative for the South Neighborhood LGBT caucus PRISM, said she sees MSU becoming more accepting and inclusive towards the LGBT community.
PRISM does not take official political stances so as not to exclude any member of the community, but Beyer said she is excited about the Democratic Party’s push towards the legalization of gay marriage.
“The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that stands up for minorities,” she said. “Supporting same-sex marriage is just another step towards representing everybody’s opinions- not just straight white men.”
Beyer said that even though she is excited about Democrats’ newfound activism, she is skeptical about how much Obama will be able to accomplish.
Along with her doubts, Beyer said she thinks the issue of legalizing gay-marriage could further divide American voters by forcing them to choose sides, making any progress impossible.
“I think the President’s stance could make people more divided between the parties. People who are moderate may be drawn to one political party over another because of their thoughts on gay marriage,” she said.
In general, Grossmann said Americans don’t base their political decisions on the candidate or party’s stance on same-sex marriage.
Though she strongly supports the legalization of same-sex marriage, social relations and policy sophomore Kylie Cumback said a candidate’s stance on the issue doesn’t really influence her vote.
“How a candidate feels about same-sex marriage is important to me, but there are other issues that are more important to me that determine who I vote for,” Cumback said.
Grossmann said gay voters are more likely to vote for a liberal candidate who supports gay rights even if they see themselves as conservative or moderate because of the personal connection they feel with this issue.
Even though Republicans have been reluctant, he said the party is now slowly moving towards accepting same-sex marriage and other gay rights in order to gain the support of moderate or conservative gay Americans.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on two pieces of legislation dealing with same sex marriage.
One piece of legislation in question is the Defense of Marriage Act, which if overturned will require the federal government to recognize state-recognized same-sex marriages.
The other piece of legislation in question is California’s Proposition 8, which will determine whether states’ same-sex couples must be recognized in states where same-sex marriage is not legal.
Though these cases are important, Grossmann said he is skeptical about how much influence they will actually have.
“A majority of the justices on the current Supreme Court are conservative, so I don’t see these rulings as the time when gay marriage will be legalized,” he said.
Grossmann said even though he is skeptical about the influence of the court cases, he still sees public opinion moving towards universal acceptance of same-sex marriage.
He said he believes this shift will lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
“The passion used to be against gay marriage,” Grossman said. “Now the passion is overwhelmingly in favor of it.”