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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 26th, 2013
05:47 PM ET

In a generation, fast evolution of support for gay marriage in U.S.

The rainbow banners raised high today outside the Supreme Court  as a pair of historic rulings come down on same-sex marriage. The court struck down the defense of marriage act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman at the federal level, and it also effectively struck down California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state.

The DOMA  ruling will allow same-sex married couples to receive the same federal benefits as straight couples - on taxes, health care, retirement, and survivorship, among others.

The Prop 8  ruling opens the door for same-sex marriage to begin again in California. Both were 5-to-4 decisions, though the justices didn't all fall on the same sides in both. For the couples involved, today was a long time coming.

What's remarkable is not the celebrations, the couples lining up on the courthouse steps in San Francisco, the raucous celebrations in New York City, or the tears of joy on the steps of the Supreme Court.

What's remarkable for Americans over the age of 30, is the relative quiet among the opponents of same-sex marriage. For its supporters, Wendesday was a long time coming. But in the scope of history, America has had a remarkably short change of heart on the issue

The 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York's West Village was the first time the idea of gay rights percolated into the mainstream, though it certainly was not embraced.

The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973.

It wasn't until the 1990s that even discussing same-sex marriage began to pick up steam in the popular culture.

And on this both supporters and opponents of gay and lesbian rights agree: the entertainment industry did a lot to change minds

It was through the medium of television that millions of Americans first had gays and lesbians in their living rooms.

"Golden Girls" launched in 1985 and had a gay character in the first episode. The topic was frequently discussed throughout the run of the series. Character Blanche Devereaux said in one episode, "I can accept that he's gay but why does he have to put a ring on it?" Another character, Sophia Petrillo-Weinstock, responds, "Everyone wants someone to grow old with. And shouldn't everyone have that chance?"

In 1985, 82% of the public opposed same-sex marriage, 11% supported it.

In 1994, Pedro on "The Real World: San Francisco" introduced a gay man with HIV/AIDS to millions of then-teenagers. He died that year and was praised by then-President Bill Clinton.

That year, only 31% of Americans said they supported gay marriage. And despite his praise of Pedro, Clinton soon signed the very same Defense of Marriage Act that was struck down Wednesday, the law declaring that as far as the federal government was concerned, marriage was between one man and one woman

One year later, in 1997, comedian Ellen DeGeneres announced, "I'm gay."

And it was during the late 1990s that the legal battles to wed began to heat up, with gay couples asking for marriage licenses in states from coast to coast.

Meanwhile TV shows from "Melrose Place" to "Ally McBeal" to "Party of Five" introduced gay and lesbian characters.

Experts on both sides of the debate agree that the public proclamations of normalcy changed attitudes, and prompted more real gays and lesbians to embrace their identities.

By 2004 - the year the Bush campaign used the issue to drum up opposition to Democrats - "Will and Grace" won 9 Emmys, same-sex marriage was legal in Massachusetts, and several states followed in short order.

Public opinion moved quickly, too.

Between 2005 and 2013, CNN polling showed a jump in support from 28% to 55%, nearly double the number of people in just eight years.

And while the Supreme Court doesn't always align with public opinion, Wednesday's verdicts would seem to show the court is not immune to changing attitudes either.

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