When Penn State sophomore David Falk was a third-grader in Eugene, Ore., he got his his first taste of politics during the gay marriage debate before the 2004 elections.
The majority of the children in that liberal-leaning town came down against the idea.
Eleven years later, he was part of a celebratory atmosphere in the Penn State LGBTQ Student Resource Center after the U.S. Supreme Court released its historic ruling that same-sex couples in all states should be allowed the same marriage rights as heterosexuals.
“There is a lot of excitement for sure about the Supreme Court decision, and I think a lot of the excitement has to do with how rapidly this process has happened,” he said. In the space of a decade, Falk watched it go from being unlikely, to being approved in a few states and rejected in others, to becoming the law of the land.
“Just 10 years, ago no one would have imagined all of the U.S. having legalized gay marriage,” Falk said.
“This is extremely exciting,” said senior Stephanie Malpica, who was in California when that state passed Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that made gay marriage illegal in 2008. “That was one of the events that expedited my interest in social justice.”
English professor Christopher Reed heads up Penn State’s minor in sex and gender studies. He said he also is amazed by the changes.
“It’s even faster for me,” he said. Reed remembers another court decision, about 30 years ago, when Bowers v. Hardwick made it legal for Georgia to make homosexual sex a crime.
“I remember feeling so isolated and excluded from what it meant to be an American citizen,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that in my lifetime there is such a turnaround.”
Chinese native and sophomore Peter Kong, wearing a Captain America shirt, says he understands how much it means on an international level.
“It means the progress of a society,” he said. “This sets an example for the whole world.”
Reed noted several countries have particularly harsh punishments for homosexuals.
“There are a lot of corners of the world where homophobia is really present in law and practice,” he said.
Graduate student Alyssa Henning said she appreciates the ruling as a way to help the population view same-sex couples in a context they understand better.
“Marriage is of high social importance in this country. It’s expected for people to get married and have a family and have kids, and so instead of calling it a civil union or a partnership, it’s marriage, which legitimizes our love,” she said.
What they all agree on is that there are still more hurdles in front of the LGBTQ movement, from employment and housing discrimination to transgender acceptance and other issues.