When Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage on Jan. 6, it meant greater equality for the roughly 50,000 same-sex couples who call Florida home — as determined by California-based research center The Williams Institute through tabulations of the 2010 U.S. Census — and for all the state’s same-sex couples of the future.
It also meant an increase in the percentage of Americans living in a state with marriage equality from 64 to 70 percent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That’s double the percent from a year ago — just 34 percent of Americans lived in a state with marriage equality going into 2014.
The Gazette spoke with Robert Gallagher, assistant professor of sociology, social problems and human sexuality and the Gay-Straight Alliance adviser at Broward College South Campus, about responding to gay marriage opponents as well as what LGBT equality issues in our state, in our country and in our schools we should turn our attention toward next.
What do you say to people who are against same-sex marriage?
I would say really two things. One is, “How would you feel if people voted on your right to marry your husband or wife — if they took it out of your hand and said, ‘Should you be allowed to get married?'” … I think if you bring it down to a personal level, how they feel about their own spouse, they will understand a little bit better.
And second off, I would say, “Look at this history of marriage in America.” … In slavery times, African-Americans weren’t allowed to marry. It wasn’t until 1967 that interracial couples were allowed to marry. So, the whole idea of marriage has never been a constant one-man, one-woman idea. It’s been one man, one woman — if you were white, if you were Protestant, if you were of the same religion.
… There was a study out of Australia done and also a study by The Williams Institute done that found that when we started allowing gay people to marry, actually the divorce rate went down. In fact, gay people have about half the divorce rate.
About 2 percent of all straight people will divorce by the end of the year. For gay people, it’s about 1 percent.
So, it [marriage] stabilizes relationships, it keeps people together, and I think it’s better for the community when you have somebody that’s allowed to have a stable relationship that’s legitimized by not only their state but also by the federal government, from an economic standpoint and from a social standpoint.
What LGBT equality issue in Florida should we focus on tackling now that gay marriage has been legalized?
I think number one we need to focus on employment non-discrimination. It’s legal to fire somebody based on their sexual orientation in 29 states, including Florida. And if somebody fires you for being gay or lesbian, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or lesbian — if you have no money, you’re going to be depressed, and it can lead to a lot of other social ills that can occur. … The second biggest thing we need to work on is hate-crimes legislation. Being LGBT is now the second highest group of people that are victims of hate crimes, behind race, so I think that’s another aspect of how can we get people more tolerant of gay people? How can we increase those penalties of hate crimes based on orientation and prosecute those people based on hate crimes?
How about as a country?
We need to tackle the issue of what about if you’re poor and gay — what issues may you have? What if you live in a rural area and [are] gay? … Here in Broward County and [Miami-]Dade County, we have a lot of protections, but that’s not true just an hour north of here, so we need to focus on statewide and also nationwide. And then also there’s issues within race and sexuality that we need to focus on — discrimination based on you’re African-American or Hispanic and gay or lesbian. … So, we need to focus on those issues, as well, not just make it a gay or lesbian white, middle-class movement.
Some believe we need to focus more on transgender rights. What do you think?
The discrimination that transgender people face is very high. Hate crime against transgender people is very high as well. So, yes, transgender groups are one of the next groups of people that we need to focus on protections for. Even groups like the HRC [Human Rights Campaign] have tried to say, “OK, let’s have gay and lesbian nondiscrimination protection,” and they had to take out the word transgender because people in Congress wouldn’t vote to add transgender to it. So the question is, in our movement, do we need to keep with that? And I think we do — we need to keep that term transgender included in our movement.
When it comes to LGBT matters, what do you think our schools need the most advancement with?
In the school systems, I think you really need a very strong no-tolerance anti-bullying campaign. … A child said the “f” word. There has to be some ramifications for the child — immediate ramifications. No “let it go.” Every single teacher has to be held accountable for enforcing bullying policies in schools.
What is your favorite topic to teach about and why?
I really like to focus in on inequalities, whether it’s economic inequalities, sexual inequalities and in polices that we could implement that will eliminate some of those disadvantages that groups have, whether it’s economic, racial, social, sexual, gender or have you not. So anything dealing with oppression, discrimination, any of the –isms — sexism racism, heterosexism — I really like to focus on because I think it opens up students’ eyes and [helps them] really see the privileged status of people that are rich or in any other given category where they have that advantage.
What do you believe to be the most important message for your students to take away from the classes you teach?
I would say that you are not an individual in a vacuum, that you are a product of the environment you are raised in, and that we have to remember that when we talk about issues with people — that people are a product of their environment — and we have to understand the person from their perspective.