The Election of Tammy Baldwin: Changing Attitudes Toward Homosexuality

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Tammy Baldwin, openly gay, won the Senate race in Wisconsin. Image by Denise Cross

Merriam Webster defines mores as “the fixed morally binding customs of a particular group” or as “moral attitudes.”

But how “fixed” are American’s attitudes about homosexuality?  Perhaps not as fixed as we thought.

In the 2012 election, Tammy Baldwin made history  by becoming the first openly gay United States Senator.

Hailing from Wisconsin, Baldwin’s race was also the most expensive Senate race in history, according to MSN News.

Her sexual orientation reportedly “never became a major topic on the campaign trail.

Tammy Baldwin’s election illustrates the changing attitudes of Americans toward homosexuality.

Tracing Change Over Time: Attitudes Toward Homosexuality and Politics

The American Enterprise Institute, AEI, reported that twenty one times from 1973 through 2006 NORC/GSS asked the following question, “What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex – do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?  Respondents chose between “Always Wrong,” “Almost Always,” “Only Sometimes,” and “Not Wrong.”  Those choosing the first option dropped from 73% to 56%.  Those choosing “Not Wrong” rose from 11% to 36% over time.

This change occurred slowly.  Another cited by AEI compared attitudes on whether it was morally acceptable or morally wrong for people to engage in homosexual behavior.  From 2003 to 2005 the numbers remained virtually unchanged over that period with approximately 42 to 44% stating it was morally acceptable and 52% to 54% stating it was wrong.

In 2003, an AP poll asked “What if a presidential candidate favored gay marriage? Would that make you more likely to support that candidate, less likely, or wouldn’t it make any difference in your decision to support a particular candidate?”  49% of the respondents stated it would make them “less likely” to support a candidate.  39% reported it would make “no difference.” Only 10% said it would make them “more likely” to support a candidate.  Yet, in 2012, Tammy Baldwin found little opposition based on her sexual orientation.

Comparisons to Changing Attitudes toward Blacks and Women in Power

White House Landing. Image by dcJohn.

President Obama’s election win illustrates changing attitudes towards race. Image by dcJohn.

In a faculty-sponsored undergraduate paper in 2004, Melissa Schroeder compared changing attitudes toward blacks and women in power with those of homosexuals in power.

Stating that  attitudes toward homosexuals were undergoing a “cultural ideological shift” she concluded that her “results show a correlation between positive attitudes toward homosexuals and the positive attitudes toward woman and Blacks, indicating people’s attitudes becoming more liberal in general. Hence, giving further evidence to a cultural ideological shift in the general acceptance of homosexuals, women, and Blacks from 1974 to 1996.”

The election of a black president to a second term, and the election of an openly homosexual Senator illustrate a new cultural attitude, or in sociological terms, a new more in America.

Sources:

Bowman, K. AEI Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes About Homosexuality and Gay Marriage(2008). Accessed November 8, 2012.

Merriam Webster. Mores. Accessed November 8, 2012.

MSN News: Wisconsin Baldwin’s Becomes First Openly Gay Senator. (2012).  Accessed November 7, 2012.

Schroeder, M. Changing Social Attitudes in the United States: Increasing Acceptance of Homosexuals. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research VII(2004). Accessed November 8, 2012.

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