I Haven’t a Clue

During a discussion with a friend the other day, he asked me a question I couldn’t answer.  Why, he wondered, did so many other Western democratic countries accept same-sex marriage before the United States? We still have states fighting tooth and nail against the tide of recognition, while in other parts of the modern world, the fight has been over for more than a decade.

I actually asked myself the same question back in 2005, when Spain recognized same-sex marriages. How did it happen that the country best known for the  Inquisition recognized same-sex marriage before we did?

The Netherlands was first, recognizing same-sex unions in 2001. In addition to Spain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal and Sweden have all followed suit. Last year, Britain joined the growing list.

It isn’t just Europe, either–last year, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize gay marriage.  South Africa did so back in 2006.

We Americans pride ourselves on our devotion to individual liberty and human rights, but we haven’t exactly been pioneers on this issue. (Or, come to think of it, on other issues involving acceptance–let alone celebration–of diversity.) Of course, there’s that durable Puritan heritage that continues to fight–often successfully– with the Enlightenment roots of our governing philosophy.

The U.S. is an outlier among western democratic societies when it comes to religion. (Ironically, given Puritans’ constant efforts to pass laws privileging religion, sociologists tell us it is our lack of a state-endorsed religion–our Enlightenment freedom to choose–that is largely responsible for Americans’ persistent religiosity). Since most opposition to same-sex marriage is based on religious doctrine, that’s my best guess at an answer.

Any other theories about why we lag the rest of the west?


  1. Saying that Spain is best known for the Inquisition is like saying the United States is best known for slavery. To see the Christian Gospel as anything other than inclusive and affirming is a misread. Religion is not the problem-ignorance is.

  2. The country, especialy to of the rest of the world, is taken to speak with a single voice. Up close though each of us is well aware of the cacophony.

    I’ll never forget my times in Switzerland when I was chastised for electing Bush II. When I revealed the deep divisions in we, the people, many were surprised that it was possible for such deep rifts to have evolved in our culture.

    Then, there’s the Civil War.

    Diversity, I supposed, is a by product of democracy. The freer the people the more wide range the opinions. At least the expression of them.

    So, who leads the cultural charge to restrict freedom as in determining who one should love?

    One set of suspects are those who understand that they have been empowered by God to define the greater good, and they understand that to be different than our instincts. That mankind is equally led by the devil and God. Their job is to out market the devil.

    Or, perhaps they’ve discovered that guilt feeling people are generous people.

    Some of each I suppose.

    The bottom line? Freedom is always tenuous. It’s always a struggle. To be free we must protect it for everyone. There are always those who feel that they know better.

  3. There is no easy answer, and many small, and not so small, cultural nuances at play.

    We are very Eurocentric. Coupled with too much competition, not enough cooperation and a ‘We’re number one” attitude, we will suppress anything that doesn’t meet the criteria of the official doctrine of the Church. We have always had the “Eminent domain” attitude: Everything we see is ours and to hell with what is yours.” Ironically, Europe has reined in this attitude considerably more than we have.

    This nation’s culture of corporatism has turned the value of life into one of subtle slavery. People are viewed only as to what they can do for the company, which has devalued any concerns of freedom or quality of life.

    Europe has learned to look forward. We can’t seem to get past the moment.

  4. This country’s puritanical mindset, coupled with it’s obsession with anything sexual has resulted in the general confusion and many misconceptions by the masses. In the 1950’s I had a bad reputation because I had breasts; I developed early and later learned that genral concensus was that having sex caused breasts to grow. My best friend and I compared notes in our 40’s and she said her mother’s solution was to rub her chest with camphor and bind her each night at bedtime to prevent this from happening. No idea if this caused her huge bazooms but she wan’t having sex; neither was I.

    Too many who have power to control our sex lives are old men and it has always been that way; they are also the primary source of preventing birth control, abortions or women’s rights to their chosen medical care but provide insurance coverage for erectile dysfunction supplies to keep themselves active. Then, they don’t want to adopt or provide assistance for the resulting unwanted babies. Maybe time is part of the answer; the public does seem to be coming around to recognizing the fact that LBGTs are a fact of life, not a phase, a mental condition that can be treated or a chosen lifestyle. My granddaughter gave birth to a beautiful little girl on August 10th; prior to her daughter’s birth she had researched and decided to breast feed. One of her very tasteful pictures with Baylee on Facebook resulted in one request to remove that pornographic picture. The response was overwhelmingly against the request and Facebook has regulations allowing breastfeeding pictures because it is a normal part of many mothers today and in earlier years was the only source of food for infants. What could be seen of my granddaughter’s breast was far less than cleavage of movie stars that are regularly and abundantly shown on all social media. Meanwhile, confusion reigns and nowhere moreso than in Indiana.

  5. We have same sex marriage by court decisions, not legislation, and the judges who made these decisions were not elected, thus not influenced by the massive amounts of money that have corrupted our political system. The big business interests learned long ago to take advantage of conservative christians to use hot button social issues to elect those who will further the cause of business over people. So we have people like the Kochs financing candidates who pander to the christian right wing, to support their business interests. In the countries that legalized same sex marriage before the US, money does not influence elections to the extent that it does here.

  6. I know that my relatives from the “Old Country” did not take religion all that seriously.
    Church was for Christmas and Easter. Getting Married or Buried.
    They did NOT use it to beat up on others
    I think other ADVANCED nations are more invested in FACTS and SCIENCE.
    (See how the Middle East clings to their guns and books–not so much in Europe)
    And because of that, advanced nations are going to pass us up if we are not careful.
    Example: Germany is reaching 50% Renewable energy
    We have very little. Less than 3%
    But hey….we had LOTS of Church.
    It is all over my TV
    The other problem:
    In many countries, the government controls the energy business.
    In OUR nation, the Energy Business controls the government.
    They use bigotry to help them get the votes they need to retain control.
    TEA Anyone?

  7. The USA in some respects leads and in others is behind the Eight Ball – From Wiki: Countries which have not officially adopted the metric system (US, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Liberia).

    We have people here in the USA who believe in a young earth, or creationism or intelligent design. Not only do they believe it they want to impose their superstitions on the rest of us.

  8. “They” want to control our lives; however, they often cannot control theirs. A house of worship should be more like a hospital and less like a trophy case.

  9. Robyn,

    Spain moved on from its inglorious past without a hint of repeating. You may want to pick up a copy of Douglass Blackmon’s “Slavery By Another Name.” There are elements in today’s society who would love nothing better than re-enslavement of everything and one from anywhere other than Europe. Anywhere in Europe. Re- think your statement.

  10. Like your friend said, Sheila, if you like Sharia law vote Republican. The shiite christians can’t see there is no difference between them and any other religious bigot.

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