Tag Archives: politics: human rights

Why Are People Changing Their Minds about Same-Sex Marriage?

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

We’ve seen a real shift in support for the issue and acceptance of homosexuality in general.  Since 2011, the majority of Americans are in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples and the trend has continued.

What is behind that change?  The Pew Research Center asked 1,501 respondents whether they’d changed their minds about same-sex marriage and why.  Here’s what they found.

The overall trend towards increasing support is clear in the data.  Fourteen percent of Americans say that they used to oppose same-sex marriage, but they now support it.  Only 2% changed their mind in the other direction.

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People offered a range of reasons for why they changed their minds.  The most common response involved coming into contact with someone that they learned was homosexual.  A third of respondents said that knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person was influential in making them rethink their position on gay marriage.  This is consistent with the Contact Hypothesis, the idea that (positive) experiences with someone we fear or dislike will result in changes of opinion.

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As you can see, lots of other reasons were common too.  A quarter of people said that they, well, “evolved”:  they grew up, thought about it more, or more clearly.  Nearly as many said that they were simply changing with the times or that a belief that everyone should be free to do what they want was more important than restricting the right to marry.

I thought that the 5% that said they’d changed their minds for religious reasons were especially interesting.  Support for same-sex marriage is rising in every demographic, even among the religious.  Following up on this, Pew offers an additional peek into the minds of believers.  The table below shows that 37% of the religious  both believe that same-sex marriage is compatible with their belief and support it, but an additional 28% who think marriage rights would violate their religious belief are in favor of extending those rights nonetheless.

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While we’ve been following the trend lines for several years, it’s really interesting to learn what’s behind the change in opinion about same-sex marriage.  Contact with actual gay people — and probably lovable gay and lesbian celebrities like Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris — appears to be changing minds. But the overall trend reflects real shifts in American values about being “open,” valuing “freedom” and “choice,” extending “rights,” and accepting that this is the way it is, even if one personally doesn’t like it.

Cross-posted at BlogHer and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

History Repeating Itself: Discriminatory Voting Laws

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a documenting history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws.  When the law was passed in 1965, one of its main targets were “literacy tests.”

Ostensibly designed to ensure that everyone who voted could read and write, they were actually tools with which to disenfranchise African Americans and sometimes Latinos and American Indians.  Minority voters were disproportionately required to take these tests and, when they did, the election official at the polling place had 100% jurisdiction to decide which answers were correct and score the test as he liked.  The point was to intimidate and turn them away from the polls.  If this sounds bad, you should see the range of disturbing and terrifying things the White elite tried to keep minorities from voting.

The tactics to manipulate election outcomes by controlling who votes is still part and parcel of our electoral politics.  In fact, since most voters are not “swing” voters, some would argue that “turnout” is a primary ground on which elections are fought.  This is not just about mobilizing or suppressing Democrats or Republicans, it’s about mobilizing or suppressing the turnout of groups likely to vote Democrat or Republican.  Since most minority groups lean Democrat, Republicans have a perverse incentive to suppress their turn out. In other words, this isn’t a partisan issue; I’d be watching Democrats closely if the tables were turned.

Indeed, states have already moved to implement changes to voting laws that had been previously identified as discriminatory and ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Act.  According to the Associated Press:

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

So, yeah, it appears that Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days.  This is bad.  It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.

In any case, here are two examples of literacy tests given to (mostly) minority voters in Louisiana circa 1964.  Pages from history (from Civil Right Movement Veterans):

Louisiana circa 1964a Louisiana circa 1964bThanks to @drcompton for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Fate of Prisoners during Hurricane Katrina

This is an excerpt from a much longer account of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, published at Caroline Heldman’s blog.  Katrina landed on the gulf coast on August 29th, 2005.

Of the many people who did not or could not evacuate New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina, prisoners were especially helpless.  The American Civil Liberties Union gathered testimony from 400 of the 7,000 people locked up in New Orleans Prison at the time of Katrina, including approximately 100 juveniles.

Many reported being left in their cells while the water rose above their heads; being beaten and sprayed with mace once evacuated (to state maximum security prisons); and left on Interstate-10 in the hot sun for days without food or water. An entire building with about 600 prisoners was left behind in the evacuation process and weren’t rescued for days (source).


(source)

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This photo of prisoners guarded on I-10 was taken more than two days after the storm:

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Most of the 7,000 prisoners had been charged with misdemeanor offenses and would have been released within a few weeks, even if convicted. But Governor Blanco effectively suspended habeas corpus (due process; right to a speedy trial) for six months, so some were incarcerated for over a year – doing “Katrina time.”  “The court system shut its doors, the police department fell into disarray, few prosecutors remained, and a handful of public defenders could not meet with, much less represent, the thousands detained” (source). Prison officials deny that anyone died in the crisis, despite several reports of deaths from both police officers and prisoners (source).

The Orleans Parish Prison continues to have civil rights concerns. In 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department found that conditions at OPP violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The report found that prisoners experience violence from other prisoners, excessive force from guards, are not provided adequate medical services, and live in unsanitary conditions with pests.

This hour-long BBC video documents their experiences:

Overcrowding in California Prisons

As a consequence of the “drug war” that began in the 1980s, the U.S. prison population has skyrocketed and, despite dramatic increases in corrections spending, many prisons are now grossly overcrowded.  This issue rose to the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court which has ruled that California must release or relocate more than 33,000 prisoners because prisons are so crowded as to amount to cruel and unusual punishment (source).

A recent issue of Mother Jones included a frightening exposé of the overcrowding in these prisons.  Below are some highlights from the slideshow.

Mule Creek Prison, 108 percent over capacity. “As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet.”

A gym converted into a dorm:

California State Prison, “It currently holds 4,275 inmates; it is designed to hold 2,300.”

California Institution for Men. “It currently holds nearly 5,600 inmates and is 97.5 percent over capacity.”

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Muslim Women and their White Saviors

Recently at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery wrote about an ad from Germany’s International Human Rights campaign that, as she put it, is “a lesson in how not to advocate for women’s rights.”

The translation of the text is “Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights.”

As Dusenbery writes,

It seems the folks who created this ad not only have a hard time seeing agency but actually went out of their way to erase it as thoroughly as possible and then stomp on it some more. And then equated women who wear the burqa with bags of trash. Literally.

I completely agree, and would like to add some broader context.  This is not at all surprising, given the recent of attempts in the West to obscure the agency of Muslim women in juxtaposition to their white, Western saviors. One of the more blatant examples of this was the discourse of the United States government that it was going to war in Afghanistan in part to save Afghan women from the Taliban. Laura Shepherd argued in an excellent 2006 article in The International Feminist Journal of Politics (which I’vecited before) that the US discursively constructed Afghan women as the “Helpless Victim” that was submissive and lacking agency, under the oppressive control of the “Irrational Barbarian.” This discourse, was used, of course, to posit the United States (specifically, its military) as the saviors who could rectify the situation for these women. Much as the agency of the women in the German PSA was erased, this narrative denied the agency of Afghan women, who, as Shepherd writes, are afforded “only pity and a certain voyeuristic attraction” (p. 20).

Of course, this specific discourse hasn’t ended. As this TIME Magazine cover from last year shows, it continues to serve as a means of justifying the US occupation of Afghanistan.

(Cover to the August 9, 2010 edition of TIME)

This discourse assumes, obviously, that the US presence in Afghanistan is a clear benefit for women in the country, a position at least some women’s organizations in Afghanistan contest. Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing had an excellent post on this issue last summer.

I should also mention France’s recently-instituted ban on the full-faced veil, which Dusenbery argues – citing Jos Truitt – is a similar erasure of agency. I agree with her, and again would add that this fits in with this general (Orientalist) discourse about Muslim women, their uncivilized oppressors, and their White saviors.

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John McMahon is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he also participates in the Women’s Studies Certificate Program.  He is interested in post-structuralism, issues relating to men and feminism, gendered practices in international relations, gender and political theory, and questions of American state identity.  John blogs at Facile Gestures, where this post originally appeared.

See also our post in which we criticize a set of public service ads that compared women the genital cutting to blow up sex dolls.

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