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December 3, 2004

What the Future Holds

I've been meaning to post on this ever since (at my request) Joshua Baker sent me the PDF release of his and Maggie Gallagher's findings:

Do a majority of young adults favor gay marriage? It depends on how the question is asked. Over the past year, polls by reputable polling companies have found the proportion of adults ages 18-29 who favor gay marriage ranging from 40 percent to 63 percent. Conversely, the proportion of young adults opposed to gay marriage has ranged from 36 percent to 54 percent.

For example, separate polls conducted just two weeks apart last spring found radically different results: A March 2004 ABC News poll found 63 percent of young adults agreeing that "it should be legal...for homosexual couples to get married" (36 percent thought such marriages should be "illegal"). Meanwhile, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found young adults opposed to gay marriage ("a law...that would allow two men [or two women] to marry each other") by a margin of 52 to 41 percent.

Looking at some Pew data covering the responses of different age groups about a year ago, I suggested that there are two ways to approach these sorts of findings: the cultural shift from one generation to the next, and the personal drift (usually toward a more-conservative view) throughout a lifetime. In the Pew poll, opposition to SSM shoots up a little less than 30% among those in their thirties — just the age range during which adults are having children and solidifying their understanding of what they want and are meant to do with their lives.

One particularly interesting aspect of the Baker/Gallagher piece is the finding that teenagers, the group below college age, are relatively conservative on this issue. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, although it does jibe with anecdotal observations — often a topic of conversation among acquaintances of my general age — that the generations appear to fluctuate wildly below midlife. Those at the front end of Generation X seem to be a bit more freewheeling. Those at the tail end (where I place myself) are more conservative, often manifesting in religious outlook.

Those following us (some currently in college) have seemed a bunch of lunatics ever since I was in high school hearing of their drug- and sex-related escapades. Consequently, it doesn't surprise me that this group would be erratic in its opinions, or that the next gang would be different in a good way.

Optimist that I am, I note another of my unsubstantiated observations: no matter what the Boomer liberals like to believe, when people's views change, those who were out on the furthest limb are more apt to hug the trunk than early trunk-huggers are apt to trust their weight to the leaves. As Baker and Gallagher conclude, it's still much too early to cede the future to the marriage radicals.

Posted by Justin Katz at December 3, 2004 6:02 PM
Marriage & Family