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The gay marriage paradox: as acceptance rises, so do legal barriers

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The map is still sorting itself out. In November, voters in Maine and Minnesota, and likely Maryland and Washington – all states that voted for Obama in 2008 – will face ballot measures on gay marriage. With some, if not all, supporters of gay marriage have a shot at ending their losing streak. 

Rhode Island, which allows civil unions but not gay marriage, now recognizes gay marriages performed in other states. In the next few years, a few more states are expected to approve constitutional bans as others work to undo theirs. Hanging over this emerging patchwork is the US Supreme Court, with multiple cases heading to its doorstep.

Dizzying change

The pace of change has been dizzying. When Brian Powell, a sociologist at Indiana University in Bloomington, began interviewing Americans nationwide in 2003 for a book on attitudes toward gay marriage, discomfort with the topic was palpable.

“Many people would lower their voice when they would say the word ‘gay,’ as if they were talking about a disease,” says Mr. Powell, co-author of “Counted Out: Same-sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family.”

By the last round of interviews, in 2010, the hushed tones had diminished. And more interviewees reported having a gay friend or relative. “How do you have an increase in gay relatives?” he says. “People had become more open.”

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