The 'Will & Grace' Effect; with Massachusetts Leading the Way, Gay Marriage Is Slowly Becoming a Reality-And Dividing Generations

By Rosenberg, Debra | Newsweek, May 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

The 'Will & Grace' Effect; with Massachusetts Leading the Way, Gay Marriage Is Slowly Becoming a Reality-And Dividing Generations


Rosenberg, Debra, Newsweek


Byline: Debra Rosenberg, With Hilary Shenfeld, Dirk Johnson and Ron Depasquale

For Richard and Jeanine Benanti, opposing same-sex marriage was an easy call. "It's against nature, it's against society and it's against the Bible," says 49-year-old Richard, who works for the Boys and Girls Club in Springfield, Ill. His wife, Jeanine, a 46-year-old stay-at-home mom, shared his feelings. "The way I was raised, as a Catholic, marriage was always between one man and one woman," she says. "I don't see how you could make it anything else." The Benantis took their three children to church regularly and sent them to Catholic school. So it was a shock when their 18-year-old daughter, Diana, recently announced her support for gay marriage. Diana says her views solidified after she saw a just-married gay couple on TV. "I just thought how sweet it was that they finally got what they wanted," she says. "Allowing them to be married is something that America is all about."

Maybe not all of America--yet. Thousands of gay couples tied the knot in a few rogue counties in California, Oregon and other states, but court battles stopped the flow of licenses, some of which were legally questionable to begin with. This week, after years of legal wrangling, Massachusetts becomes the first state to allow same-sex unions with the blessing of its highest court. This time, brides and grooms won't be forced to rush through assembly-line weddings at city hall, but are heading to reception halls, sympathetic churches and picturesque beaches for ceremonies with all the customary frills. That's given a new urgency to the arguments on both sides in the marriage debate. Opponents believe the images of more gay newlyweds will so offend the public that conservatives will win new support for their continuing efforts to ban same-sex unions. Late last week they tried, and failed, to get the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an emergency stay. But supporters say the Massachusetts weddings will prove gay marriage isn't a threat to anyone. "Gays are not going to use up all the marriage licenses," says Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom to Marry.

The debate isn't just dividing Americans by state--in many families it's the cause of friction at the dinner table. Polls show a sizeable generation gap when it comes to supporting same-sex marriage. In a NEWSWEEK Poll, 41 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds back gay marriage, compared with 28 percent of Americans overall. Generation Y is more tolerant than its elders, says pollster Celinda Lake. Christine Dinnino, 17, has regular fights about the marriage issue with her father, Samuel, a 43-year-old retired Army sergeant in Inverness, Fla. Though Samuel bases his objections on the Bible, Christine sees gay marriage as a civil-rights issue. "It used to be illegal to marry someone of a different race," she says. "That sounds pretty foreign to the typical 15-year-old today." While baby boomers tend to view homosexuality as anti-establishment, young people often see same-sex marriage as a way of integrating gays into society, says demographer Neil Howe, who has written about differences among the generations. "They see it," he says, "as domesticating something that might be threatening to society and making it mainstream. …

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