Attitudes on unconventional relationships have varied drastically over the past 50 years. In the 1950s, “traditional family values” (white, heterosexual, monogamous couples with 2.5 children) played a large role in most people’s lives, and homosexual, interracial, and “open” relationships were rarely discussed or accepted. Over time, attitudes on these types of romantic unions have fluctuated. Today, the United States is arguably closer to the traditional family values attitude than it was even in the 1960s. However, the country has made some undeniable strides toward tolerance of most relationships over the past five decades.
In the 1950s, interracial couples horrified society. Such unions were illegal and viewed as immoral, but the Civil Rights movement sought to portray everyone as equals. Much of white society would not stand for such notions. Focused on the traditional family, 1950s America was also almost entirely unsupportive of homosexual relationships. Going as far as performing lobotomies to “cure” homosexuality, psychologists acted under the belief that being gay was an illness.
According to Rosmarie Finlay of Cornell University, “The 1950s were turbulent years for the homosexual in America because laws were based upon the notion of homosexuality as an illness and a sin; the general social consensus was that homosexual acts were both a sign of a mental illness and an obvious ‘crime against nature.'”
“Open” relationships were usually viewed with equal scorn, due to the typical family mindset of most Americans in the ’50s. However, the notion of free love was not a new one: in the 1870s, women’s rights leader Victoria Woodhull preached free love and actually had a strong following. Nevertheless, due to her radical beliefs, much of what she said was discredited and the traditional belief in monogamy still held strong.
The 1960s provided an opportunity for sexual experimentation during the sexual revolution. Barriers regarding free love, interracial dating and homosexual experimentation broke down as Americans freely expressed themselves sexually. This did not last long, though, and by the 1970s and ’80s the gay rights movement (which really started in 1969 with the Stonewall Riots) was suffering. Many homosexuals moved to San Francisco in the 1970s to be among their supporters. There, homosexuals gained a great deal of political influence, but one of their leaders, Harvey Milk, was assassinated in 1978. In the 1980s the AIDs scare was generally blamed on gay men, an attitude which most view as a step backward for the gay rights movement. Religious Americans even went as far as saying that AIDs was God’s way of weeding out the gay community.
Interracial relationships fared a bit better in the ’70s and ’80s than did gay relationships. African Americans were still rarely seen in the media, but the notion that blacks, whites and other ethnicities could date was becoming more commonplace. Open relationships were still an underground phenomenon for the most part, but “swinging” in the 1970s was oddly common.
Today, interracial couples are generally accepted by most Americans. Some extreme Christians view racially mixed coupling as against the laws of the Bible, but to the arguable majority of Americans (particularly those in big cities), there is nothing wrong with interracial relationships. Homosexuals are another issue entirely. For several years it seemed that the gay rights movement was gaining momentum, demonstrated in the overturning of the anti-sodomy laws in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. However, in recent years, the gay rights movement has suffered. With a new influx of Christian and family ideals, homosexuals are again being viewed as immoral and wrong by many Americans. It seems that for gay rights activists, the movement now takes two steps forward and one step back. Despite the struggles of homosexuals, many more Americans in 2005 than in 1955 view gay relationships as acceptable and normal. The media has aided this mentality with sitcoms centering around gay characters and reality shows that depict of gay relationships in a positive light.
Open relationships continue to be viewed with skepticism today; however, they are becoming slightly more accepted. “The Tyra Banks Show” recently addressed a similar issue:
“Couples at a crossroads ask Tyra for a 24-hour ‘free pass’ to date other people. One couple hopes their ‘free pass’ will re-ignite their spark before they fizzle out for good” (The Tyra Banks Show website).
Victoria Woodhull may have been preaching free love as far back as the 1870s, but acceptance of this idea is still not a particularly common mentality today. Even those in favor of open relationships are quick to give warnings to those interested in testing the waters.
“Although a few couples can manage an open relationship, for the vast majority of couples an open relationship will cause major problems. [Ã¢Â?Â¦] There is just too much cultural conditioning about sexual exclusivity. Some things are best kept as fantasies” (theinternetcollege.com, Qualities of Successful Open Relationships).
Attitudes on unconventional relationships have undeniably changed over the course of the last five decades. While some seem to have hit snags (like the gay rights movement in recent years), homosexual, interracial and open relationships have all gradually been moving toward societal acceptance. Perhaps in the next fifty years there will be articles written on the passÃ?Â© mentality of the traditional white, male-female, monogamous couple that has been the prevalent relationship ideal for so many years.