Gay marriage's future lies with DotNet youngsters
May 8, 2006 | By Deb Smith
As the gray heads in the U.S. Senate get ready to weigh in again this June on gay marriage, look elsewhere if you want to see the real deciders, as President Bush might call them.
Look to the 21-year-old getting ready to enter law school, the 7-year-old zipping by on a Razor scooter and the 2-year-old doing her first spin around the playground in a convertible Cozy Coupe. Their generation will, I predict, have the final say over full marriage equality for those of us who’re gay—and they’ll give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Variously dubbed the DotNets or Millennials, Americans born between 1985 and 2004 are already demonstrating refreshing levels of civic engagement, respect for the power of voting and eagerness to solve problems through team work.
Generations scholar William Strauss, co-author of “Millennials Rising,” predicts young people growing up just behind the cynical, disengaged Generation Xers will be “the next great generation.”
Fortunately, the Millennials also are a big generation. Their impact is going to hit like a political tsunami in the next decade: Even before the final four years of Millennials were born, the 2000 Census put them at 72.4 million strong, nearly matching the 77.6 million Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964).
Social researchers have found that each new generation is more gay-friendly than the one before—and the oldest Millennials certainly fit that encouraging pattern.
Even two years ago, 15- to 25-year-olds favored gay marriage by 56 percent to 39 percent, according to a national survey by the University of Maryland’s youth think tank, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE at civicyouth.org).
“Each generation has come of age being considerably more tolerant and become even more so,” says CIRCLE director Peter Levine, who tracked the attitudes of generational groups over time.
“This youngest generation is very tolerant, a very large group, and they have turned around the voting decline in the first election in which they could vote. If you put all that together, it spells a huge change in gay rights—and one not very far off,” he adds.
Other polling—in which the eldest Millennials were surveyed along with half of Xers to tell us about 18- to 29-year-old voters—likewise foretells a tipping point. Within perhaps 10 years, gay marriage will enjoy majority support nationwide because younger, more accepting voters will have replaced many of today’s 65-plus voters. Notable findings include:
- Eighteen- to 29-year-olds are the first age group of voters to prefer gay marriage over other options for gay couples, 2004 election exit polls show. Asked their preference, 41 percent chose marriage for gay couples, 28 percent favored civil unions and only 30 percent said no recognition.
- Age breakdowns provided to me by the Pew Research Center of its March poll show the 18-to-29 group favoring gay marriage, 52-42 percent. That contrasts with the 65-plus crowd—opposed by 69-20 percent. (When all ages are combined, a bare majority—51 percent—opposes gay marriage. Go to: people-press.org.)
The tipping point I foresee in 10 years may come earlier. Pew found a huge decline in “strong opposition” to gay marriage, “and the fall has been sharpest among seniors, Republicans and more moderate religious groups.”
Already, Millennials are beginning to drive public opinion. We can trust them to make good, solid gay-friendly decisions.