Breaking barriers: America’s journey toward broadening its definition of love

From the inclusion of homosexuality as a reason to deny immigration to the U.S. in 1965 to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015, the U.S. has made significant changes over time to the public’s perception of love. In the past, the idea of a conventional relationship has been a male and female of the same race, married and with children. However, this default image has been changing in recent years, and more diverse portrayals of love have begun to appear in media and in daily life.

Same-sex marriage

Though same-sex couples existed, the legalization of same-sex marriage wasn’t supported politically until the 1970s. In 1971, the Gay Activists Alliance called for equality regarding marriage rights, and in 1973, the National Coalition of Gay Organizations did the same. That decade, as a response to these demands, several states enacted bans on same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples finally saw hope in the 1990s, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as well as the District of Columbia passed laws allowing same-sex marriage. In the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, making gay marriage legal throughout the U.S.

Chantilly also has a diverse population with differing sexual orientations and beliefs.

“It makes some people uncomfortable because it’s not what they’re used to or how they define themselves,” senior Katie Gallagher, who identifies as bisexual, said. “People everywhere need to learn how to be more accepting of people from other backgrounds, especially if it’s something that doesn’t change your life at all. If someone loves somebody of the same gender, or if they’re trans, or asexual, that doesn’t involve you, so it shouldn’t be hard to accept.”

Interracial marriage

Even before the same-sex marriage issue was being debated, the U.S. government was tackling the controversial issue of interracial marriage. Until 1967, it was illegal in many states for U.S. citizens to marry interracially.

Often cited as the watershed in dismantling the Jim Crow laws, the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia case was a huge step forward in the fight for interracial marriage rights. Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, were arrested in their Virginia home after getting married the month before in Washington, D.C., and they were forced to choose between exile from their native state and a year in prison. Choosing exile, they later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that anti-miscegenation laws, laws that impose racial segregation at the level of intimate relationships, are unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, and an annual and aptly named “Loving Day” on June 12 celebrates their victory.

In the decades that followed, interracial marriage rates slowly but surely increased, with only three percent of couples interracial in 1967, and 17 percent of married people differing with each other in race or ethnicity in 2015, according to Time magazine.

Despite this progression, people in interracial or same-sex relationships can still experience stigma, and people who do not want to get married at all or who want to marry at a later age may feel forced to field questions from friends and relatives. Even the children of those who choose such relationships can experience different forms of discrimination.

“My mom is Caucasian and my dad is African-American. In sixth grade I was bullied a lot because I moved to this school where everyone was the same race,” senior Josie Allamby said. “I was just constantly bullied on the daily. I would go home crying.”

Others find that although they have not personally felt discriminated against, stigma still exists against biracial relationships.

“[I’m] half Korean and half white,” sophomore Ben French said. “The only people I interact with are people that don’t really think in a racist way. There’s always people out there who will judge for someone having a biracial relationship, but there’s really no difference.”

Modern representation of diverse love

The media has had a shift from the past in terms of portraying same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. While in the past, these relationships were a taboo subject and widely opposed, representation has seen huge progress in the last century.

One of the biggest places that representation can be shown is in media, and it can also be seen in Hollywood due to the amount of people it can reach. Representation of diverse love in films directed toward teenagers has increased greatly, with movies such as “Everything, Everything” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” depicting interracial relationships. The film “Love, Simon,” a rare example of a gay teenager portraying a main role instead of a side role, has also been shown in theaters in recent years. TV shows such as “Modern Family” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” both American sitcoms, have also branched out, and depicted diverse, characters.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a perfect example [of a show that has challenged the conventional idea of a relationship],” Gallagher said. “It’s a show about a detective squad, their police captain is a gay black man, and one of the detectives is a bisexual Latina woman. All around, it’s a show that really tries to highlight how people can be from different backgrounds and cultures and love different people. Their sexualities don’t affect their lives or relationships because they’re just people who look or love differently.”

Representation can even be impactful- and contentious- in media as small as commercials. In 2013, a Cheerios advertisement on TV featuring an interracial marriage and biracial daughter sparked controversy over the subject. Even though some social media users expressed contempt for the ad, many people, especially those from mixed-race families themselves, were grateful for the accurate representation.

Love in the future

The changing laws and representation regarding diverse relationships may have an effect on students’ lives now and as they grow older. Society’s progression in its ideas surrounding love can pose certain issues. For one, parents are not always readily accepting of romantic relationships that differ from the norm, whether it be because of the environment that they grew up in, or because of the values that were typical for them when they were young.  But other young people may find that, though the world is becoming increasingly tolerant of less conventional relationships, having a less traditional couple in one’s family or becoming part of one oneself may present new issues in a family or social group.

“In being with someone of the same race, a positive would be that someone would understand. A lot of the time with mixed people, we can connect because we’ve been through the same thing of ‘Yes, that’s my mom. She’s white,’” Allamby said. “But also, it’s very hard to find someone who accepts the fact that I am mixed.”

It can also be nerve-wracking to go against societal traditions, such as being a woman and deciding to propose to one’s boyfriend instead of being proposed to, or deciding to have children with a partner before marriage. But the development of society’s views on romantic love, through court cases or movie protagonists, gives young people better opportunities, allowing them to live their lives more and more freely.

“I think our idea of love is changing,” Gallagher said. “People are slowly but surely becoming more accepting of other people’s love.”