The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


The rainbow sea change in homosexual tolerance and acceptance occurring in recent decades has been largely driven by popular culture. Homosexuality, however, has not always received favorable treatment under United States law. In Bowers v. Hardwick, Georgia maintained that society had the right to express its moral disapproval of homosexuality through criminal laws. Nonetheless, messages conveyed in influential popular culture mediums exerted a demonstrable effect on the ways in which judges, legislators, and executive officials viewed homosexual legal issues and policy considerations. The Bowers decision would ultimately be overruled in 2003 by Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing homosexuality. The following year after the Lawrence decision, Massachusetts would become the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Homosexuality featured in movies and television shows, gay treatment by the press, and through other popular culture venues like literature and theatre, has all helped to normalize homosexuality. In 1973, the Gay Activists Alliance and the National Gay Task Force developed “Some General Principles for Motion Picture and Television Treatment of Homosexuality.” That same year, homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of personality disorders. Through popular culture, empathy and understanding for homosexual characters increased. This conservative awakening pushed the LGBT rights movement to become more aggressive in promoting its agenda by using popular culture to the movement’s advantage. Because of popular culture’s access to larger portions of society, the treatment of homosexuality has unequivocally been impacted, and these changes in perception of homosexuals have been paralleled by profound changes in the law.

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St. Mary's University School of Law