Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Thu Apr 9th 2009 at 1:10pm UTC

I Do! You Do?

One of the more controversial ideas in Richard’s Creative Class theory is the Gay Index. To review, he doesn’t say that gays cause creativity, but that their acceptance by the straight community is a sign of tolerance which is important to creative class folks. Well, it looks like a lot of America is becoming more tolerant.

With Iowa and Vermont becoming the third and fourth states to allow same-sex marriage this week, there is obviously a trend. New Hampshire’s State Senate is preparing to vote on a House-passed measure. California is awaiting a state Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8, which prohibited gay marriage. The Washington, D.C. council unanimously passed a same-sex marriage ordinance but it has to be approved by Congress, so will probably be overturned.

What all of this is showing is a remarkably fast change in public attitudes. The larger public image of gays has shifted from promiscuous pedophiles to 25-year couples who want to get married.

  • A third of Americans think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, up from 22 percent in 2004. This five-year change is indicative of a major cultural shift.
  • Sixty percent think some sort of legal recognition is appropriate for same-sex couples.
  • California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage, passed by 52 percent, meaning that 48 percent or almost half of the state’s population approved.
  • The vote in the D.C. council, which has six of 13 black members, rebuts the idea that the African Americans are uniformly anti gay rights.

News stories point to churches like Quakers and Unitarians that perform same-sex marriages. However, a couple of decades ago no denomination would do so. The difficult changes in Quaker Meetings took years and some members leaving to happen. There’s a saying in Quaker circles that it took 200 years for Quakers to oppose slavery – but they did it 100 years before the rest of the country. The same thing is proving true with gay marriage.

So if America is becoming more accepting of gays, what does this mean for the creative class and the economy?

18 Responses to “I Do! You Do?”

  1. Brian Knudsen Says:

    Michael,

    I like this post, and have a few comments. Vermont is notable in that marriage was won through the legislature, not the courts. This is important, in part because the political right can’t single out “activist” judges. Apart from that, indeed the US is certainly more progressive on this issue. Yet, it is not over, and work – much work – still has to be done to guarantee that all citizens have full rights.

    However, I take issue with the language that you use. You write that “America is becoming more accepting of gays”. From that, one would infer that such acceptance is either some kind of accident or a natural cultural evolution. By no means is this the case. The victory in Vermont is/was the result of intense political organizing and social movements. Similar (smaller-scale) achievements have been won throughout the country because people have fought for them. Changes in attitudes occur when issues are forced out into the open, and when people stop accepting their subordination. Popular movements contribute mightily (maybe predominantly) to the creation of this kind of social space. My guess is that you know this, but it is constantly important to emphasize. Along these lines, everyone should see Milk.

    Finally, I am unsure of why it is necessary to always force-fit every social advance into its relevance for economic growth. I kind of bristle at that.

  2. Buzzcut Says:

    Finally, I am unsure of why it is necessary to always force-fit every social advance into its relevance for economic growth. I kind of bristle at that.

    What other social advances have been “sold” in economic terms?

    Tyler Cohen has an… interesting… theory about why gays are becoming more accepted.

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    Brian,

    Absolutely, this didn’t happen by chance and I didn’t mean to imply that it did. As with all change (to the left or the right I may add) it results from a combination of political organizing and personal decisions. People coming out to family & friends was as important as demonstrations. To that extent it’s cultural evolution, as what has to change is not just laws but hearts and minds.

    But bear in mind that neither the legislatures nor judges would have done this 10 years ago. Thirty years ago it wouldn’t have even occured to them. I remember a gay friend in the Quaker Meeting saying that equal rights were one thing but he couldn’t support marriage because it was sacred.

    Milk was a great film and builds on others like Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don’t Cry that show the dark side of prejudice.

    The reference to the creative economy is because that’s what the Creative Class ideas are about. Richard is an economist rather than a sociologist. That said, you’re right, the importance of an open society and equal rights go far beyond what’s good for business.

  4. Charles Says:

    Brian,

    I’m an instructor at an independent school in South Florida and teach and AP U.S. Government and Politics class at that reads..a lot. Two of our texts are Fiorina’s “Culture War?”(for Public Opinion & Polling) and Florida’s Who’s Your City? (for Social and Economic policy). Both texts offer specific insights into the nexus that is same sex marriage and public policy in the U.S. While you offer some interesting points points, I wouldn’t jump the gun just yet:

    “A third of Americans think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, up from 22 percent in 2004. This five-year change is indicative of a major cultural shift.”
    -Demographic shifts is the one variable that consistently shows change in the public’s attitude on same-sex marriage (Fiorina). However, most Americans still oppose same sex marriage by more than 60%. Unlike other civil rights issues, which transcend the traditional markers of political socialization (gender, race, religion, education, etc.), favoritism of the same-sex marriage issue is only (statistically-significantly) found amongst younger Americans.

    While “Sixty percent think some sort of legal recognition is appropriate for same-sex couples” (you point) may be accurate, advocates of same-sex marriage tend to view recognition to mean marriage. This issue is often framed as an “Equal Protection” issue, one that incorporates the principles of the 14th Amendment down to the state and local level. Consequently, anything short of marriage is viewed through the same lens as ’separate but equal’. Therefore, I would be hard pressed that this issue is one where some sort of ’social compromise’ would occur.

    “California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage, passed by 52 percent, meaning that 48 percent or almost half of the state’s population approved.”
    -This sort of thinking lead many an American to believe that Al Gore won the 2000 election. The complexities of both California’s system of ballot initiative, as well as voting dynamics of each of California’s electoral districts does not allow anyone to draw such a simple conclusion from the vote on Prop. 8.

    “The vote in the D.C. council, which has six of 13 black members, rebuts the idea that the African Americans are uniformly anti gay rights.”
    -I’m sure that one could find 6 gay individuals who would be opposed to the concept of gay marriage.

    As for how this issue relates to the ‘the creative class’, this “emerging” tolerance of same-sex partnerships may not necessarily correlate in the way Florida originally demonstrated it would. Iowa is a fantastic example; full of populist, “let’s keep American jobs in America”, socially-moderate individuals. Looking at the local or community level of analysis, Florida’s points about the relationship between tolerant individuals and creative economies may hold. But at the STATE or COUNTRY level, I expect such a relationship to dissipate. States are far more diverse economically that cities or mega-regions, and this diversity, when coupled with the particular political systems of each state, could act as a limiting factor limit the public’s tolerance of same-sex couples and the policy of marriage. The fact is that electoral dynamics in the United States limit radical social change. Simply look at how many Democrats have publicly denounced the Obama/Gates decision to make (necessary) cuts in defense spending on the grounds that it would threaten jobs in a particular state.

    What we may be witnessing is a more populist turn in American politics; one that may favor more social freedoms but continue to hang on to outdated industrial modes of production and at the expense of the creative engine of our economic system.

    All this is to say that I fully support the idea of same sex marriage. Acceptance of gay individuals, communities, and same-sex marriage is not only associated with creative and sustainable economies, but is also consistent with a United States that believes in a social and governmental commitment to guarantee equality in law and the pursuit of individual freedom. Yet the American electorate, writ large, is not there yet..not by a long shot.

    Best,

    /CG
    (sorry for the essay; I have the day off today)

  5. Swami Says:

    Homoseuality has nothing to do with creativity any more than any other sexual perversion. Homosexual “marriage” only exists where it was forced upon the general population by activist legislators, it has never succeeded by popular vote.

  6. Michael Wells Says:

    CG,

    What I’m looking at is the trends. With any social movement, the activists think change is too slow, the opponents think it’s too fast. Twenty years ago nobody thought that same-sex marriage would be legal in four states and some countries, and gaining in others. The shift from 22% to 33% nationally in five years is significant, regardless of the ages of those polled. In California the vote was 48% for gay marriage, how it got on the ballot and the electoral districts are irrelevant. The 6 Black DC Council members weren’t picked at random, they represent their majority Black districts in the city.

    You’re right, the American electorate isn’t there yet — but the way it gets there is incrementally, through court decisions, legislatures, family members coming out, TV shows about gay friends, etc.

    Two comparable shifts. The “moderate” White view of the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960’s was that it was a good idea, but Blacks were moving too fast — hence ML King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait”. The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in state legislatures with arguments about women in the military in combat and unisex rest rooms. The ERA lost but the change happened, or is happening, anyway.

  7. Michael Wells Says:

    “Unlike other civil rights issues, which transcend the traditional markers of political socialization (gender, race, religion, education, etc.), favoritism of the same-sex marriage issue is only (statistically-significantly) found amongst younger Americans.”

    I’d add that the same was true with other civil rights issues as they started to become accepted. The Civil Rights movement was largely younger people, certainly among Whites. In the 1960’s old-line leftists steeped in working-class dogma said women’s rights were “not political”, hence the feminist slogan “the personal is political”. Labor unions excluded minorities (some still do, de-facto). Religious prejudice against Jews and Catholics was broken down by younger people and intermarriage, as with Muslims, Hindus, etc. today.

    Looking at today’s attitudes as if they were permanent and immovable ignores people’s capacity to change.

  8. Swordsman Says:

    “Homoseuality has nothing to do with creativity any more than any other sexual perversion. Homosexual “marriage” only exists where it was forced upon the general population by activist legislators, it has never succeeded by popular vote.”

    Please peddle your hate somewhere where I do not have to read it. Thank you.

  9. Ilkka Kokkarinen Says:

    “To review, he doesn’t say that gays cause creativity, but that their acceptance by the straight community is a sign of tolerance which is important to creative class folks.”

    A more cynical person might hypothesize that gay acceptance is merely a proxy, the same way that yacht ownership strongly correlates with wealth: gay acceptance is a sign of presence of fellow middle class SWPL professionals and the absense of poor minorities (who generally tend to be rather anti-gay), which makes it attractive to SWPL’s.

    If I recall correctly (I don’t have the books at hand right now), in one of his books Dr. Florida actually uses, apparently without even realizing it himself, an explicit example of gentrification to argue his thesis that tolerance towards gay people is correlated with economic success. Drive out the poor minorities and replace them with upwardly mobile white middle class professionals, and that area suddenly gets wealthier… why, it must be all that gay creativity that the latter group brings in!

    The massive blind spot that Florida and his fellow urban liberal “creatives” have about this issue probably stems from the fact that they don’t realize the full extent of their engagement in class and status competition over the white proles that they want to distance themselves from to appear “enlightened” and “smart”. Whenever they imagine someone who opposes gay marriage, they always think of some white prole who is fat and uneducated, owns several cars, goes to church every Sunday, flies a flag unironically in his suburban home etc. They never think of the opponents of gay marriage as being black, latino, or Muslim, and thus don’t realize what their enthusiastic arguments about the correlation between gay acceptance and economic success are really implying.

    (As an educational exercise and illustration of this principle, see how long it takes you to find the word “black” or “latino” in Dr. Florida’s postings in this site. No googling allowed! Which is quite revealing, considering that the core of Dr. Florida’s social theses is the strong correlation between creativity and diversity.)

    We could generalize this topic even further and ask what exactly is the real difference between “flight of the creative class” and the plain old “white flight”, but that would be a topic for a different post and comment.

  10. Swordsman Says:

    You do understand that at least one black man is a member of this group, right?

    It would be useful to actually READ Dr. Florida’s books before critiquing them.

  11. Jim H Says:

    Nicely said Ilkka. I wandered if anyone would touch this in the way you did. Personally I’ve yet to meet a minority who was favorable to gay rights/marriage unless they themselves were gay (extremely rare).

    “The massive blind spot that Florida and his fellow urban liberal “creatives” have about this issue probably stems from the fact that they don’t realize the full extent of their engagement in class and status competition over the white proles that they want to distance themselves from to appear “enlightened” and “smart”.”

    Ilkka, we call them limousine liberals – Do as I say, not as I do.

    I’m pretty much agnostic on the whole gay issue, but like my African-American friends I can’t bring myself to equate it with the Civil Rights movement.

  12. Michael Wells Says:

    You’re probably referring to the widely reported number of 70% of African Americans who voted for California’s Prop 8. That leaves 30% in favor, lower than the state but about the national average mentioned above. America’s Black population is its most religious ethnic group, and many are members of socially conservative evangelical churches. Their voting was probably similar to other conservative Christians.

  13. Ilkka Kokkarinen Says:

    “You do understand that at least one black man is a member of this group, right?”

    Yep, that was actually one of the first things I noticed back when I found this site. Now that I looked at it, the site sidebar listed 17 creative authors, all lily white except for one Asian man and one black man who specializes in the urban hiphop scene. This doesn’t exactly scream “diversity”, at least in the usual sense of this word.

    “It would be useful to actually READ Dr. Florida’s books before critiquing them.”

    Oh, I have read them. However, reading them without giggling become much more difficult after Christian Lander’s hit site and book “Stuff White People Like” that sarcastically points out pretty much the same things that Dr. Florida argues in utter seriousness (Lander’s “white people” and Florida’s “creative class” turn out to be pretty much the same group), but is more explicit in honestly acknowledging them as status signals in intrawhite status competition that they really are.

  14. Swami Says:

    Tolerance is not proven by support of homosexuality. Until the 1970’s in all previous history, people have opposed homosexuality, we do not have to support homosexual “marriage” to be creative and tolerant. Regarding the creative class, is there any difference between yuppies, and the creative class?

  15. Swordsman Says:

    Ilkka Kokkarinen: Blacks are 13% of the population. One black person in a group this size is called “normal”. Seriously, get over it.

    Swami: Again, we get it, you hate gay people for no reason. Old news. I’m sure you can find plenty of websites where your views will be welcomed.

  16. Swami Says:

    Swordfish, just so you’ll know, I once considered marrying a bi-sexual woman, and have had several bi-sexual girlfriends over the years, so I don’t “hate gays for no reason” as you said. However I didn’t try to get the whole country to legalize polygamy so I could legally enjoy threesomes, and I didn’t tell everyone within earshot that it was “..as normal as being left handed…” The shrill effort to force everyone one to accept the homosexual agenda is probably the most irritating aspect of the homosexual movement. The possiblilty of someone standing in front of a classroom of children and telling them for grown men to “marry”, sodomize each other, or put their sexual organs in each other’s mouths is “okay” repels many . It is not okay as far as I am concerned, and, although supporting homosexuality may be a very pressing, important issue for some people, I don’t think supporting these behaviors should be a pre-requisite for being “hip”, or “creative”.

  17. Michael Wells Says:

    Swami,

    Marriage is about a lot of things, sex included. However, most married couples, or for that matter most couples, spend more time eating and cooking than having sex for example. To base marriage, with all of its aspects and complexity, on gender alone seems strange. People are going to form couples for longer or shorter times in any case. Whether you’re pro- or anti- marriage itself, it seems to me that who people choose to love is their own business and for that matter their own natures.

    I’m not aware of a movement to force anyone to accept anything, but of a shrill movement to deny rights to some people that are automatically granted to others.

    I also haven’t heard of a movement to have anyone stand in a classroom and explain the mechanics of sex, homo or hetero, which aren’t actually much different. They’re both equally strange and disgusting to 3rd graders, fascinating to 7th graders and compelling to late adolescents. But where do you get the idea that there’s an agenda to put this in classrooms?

  18. Michael Wells Says:

    This from CNN.Com:

    “A new poll indicates that majority of New Yorkers support the legalization of same-sex marriages.

    Fifty-three percent of New Yorkers questioned in a Siena College Research Institute poll support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to wed, with 39 percent opposing the move.

    The survey suggests that Democrats, independent and young voters, and women strongly support Senate passage. Republicans strongly oppose passage. Men, older voters, African-Americans, and Protestants are also opposed. The strongest support for the measure is found in New York City.”

    First time I’ve seen a poll with over 50% support for marriage, but the national numbers have risen from the 1/3 in my original post to the 40’s
    .
    Interesting African-Americans and Protestants. I assume the Protestants reflect evangelicals and so do the African Americans. I wonder if this means Catholics aren’t as opposed?