A recent Quinnipiac University study shows that 48 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, up from 36 percent in 2008 — and perhaps surprisingly, more senior citizens are supporting marriage equality than ever before.
This shift in approval also seems to be reflected here in Queens.
“I say that you just have to go with the times,” Olga Fusco, 90, a Ridgewood resident, said. “It’s going to happen eventually, so why fight it?”
Many seniors, though they may not support the lifestyle, echoed similar statements.
“You know, people used to have a big problem with it,” Greda Harris, 75, of Bellerose said. “I was one of them. But when you take a step back and see them as people, you realize that they deserve to get married just as much as the next person.”
Quinnipiac also reported that 36 percent of Americans over the age of 65 support same-sex marriage. In comparison, 63 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds support it.
Though the number of senior citizens who support marriage equality may seem low, it has been steadily on the rise.
A CBS poll administered in 2004 showed that only 12 percent of Americans over 65 years of age thought same-sex marriage should be legalized; 32 percent were in favor of civil unions and 51 percent were opposed to allowing same-sex marriage.
The reason for the increase is uncertain. It can be hypothesized that the steady gain in support is partly generational. As younger Americans gradually replace older ones in the electorate, support increases.
According to the 2010 Census, there are 646,000 same-sex households, making the percentage growth from the 2000 Census 80.4 percent.
For members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community who are older than 55, obtaining equal rights has been a struggle for decades.
“I understand people have their opinions but it should stop at their front door,” Richie B., who identifies as a gay male, said.“If two people are committed to one another, why shouldn’t they be allowed to get married?”
Richie, who is a member of the Sage Center, a community facility for LGBT seniors in Jackson Heights, said the inequality was most evident to him when his partner died.
“It got bad when my partner of 30 years passed away,” he said. “That was eight years ago and at the time, I was on unemployment so when he passed, I was entitled to nothing.”
The same-sex marriage debate has picked up momentum as two cases went before the Supreme Court last week. The first involves Proposition 8, a California referendum that bans gay marriage; the second involves the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that prevents the government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in states that have legalized it.
“We met in 1979 and have been ‘married’ three times,” Richard, another Sage member, said of his partner, Carl. “The first time was in July 1992 when we filed as domestic partners. Then on April 2, 2002, we had a civil union in Vermont, and then on June 17, 2008, we were married in Los Angeles the day after it had been legalized in California.”
Carl, whose last name has been omitted for privacy, has suffered from major illnesses several times in the past, and said that having the legal right to share benefits with his partner helped prevent losing most of his finances.
“It’s important to have the shared benefits,” Carl said. “The incentive for gay couples to marry is mostly financial. It is essential to have a say over immediate medical decisions.”
“He would have gone bankrupt,” Richard added. “It was that serious.”
One senior citizen, Harriet Jacobson, 68, said the mistreatment of gay people is cruel and unnecessary.
“If those women spent 40 years with each other and aren’t entitled to one another’s assets, but a couple of celebrities who stay together for eight months are entitled to everything, I don’t think the government is being fair,” she said. “I think this debate is ridiculous.”
While people like Jacobson and Fusco are in support, there are still many who differ.
“I really don’t know what to say about this,” a man at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center, who wished only to be identified as Albert, said. “It doesn’t really make sense to me but if you say no, then you’re saying they don’t have rights.”
Ted, who was sitting next to Albert and also requested his last name be omitted from this story, agreed.
“I don’t berate them,” he said. “I don’t support the lifestyle, to be honest with you, but as long as they don’t force it on me, that’s fine. But I think it should be a decision for the states.”
Acceptance of same-sex couples is heavily dependent on region. fifteen percent of Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
“Where you are regionally has a lot to do with acceptance,” Carl said. “Here, in Queens, we can go to the park and see gay couples with children and there is acceptance there, but when we go to Atlanta, they ‘tolerate’ us there. If you asked me if I would walk down the street wearing a pride flag at night, even in this area, I’d probably say no.”
“We live in a very diverse area and I don’t think a lot of us realize that in other states, there is little to no acceptance,” George Clarke, 57, of Jamaica said. “I think in areas like this, marriage equality would go through relatively easily, like it did last year. But other states, especially towards the middle of the country, are not as liberal as we are. Even if you consider yourself a Republican, people who live here are nowhere near as conservative as people in smaller towns.”
The Court’s decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 have yet to be made.
In the past, major decisions have not been announced until the last week of June, when the Supreme Court breaks for the summer.
“I’m confident that somewhere down the line there will be equality,” Richie said. “It will happen.”
“It’s only a matter of time before it all becomes part of the past,” Fusco said. “It will be accepted.”