The Gay Gap
As contentious as the debate over gay marriage can get sometimes, I’ve always taken comfort in one simple fact: This is a generational battle, and that means the younger generation wins… eventually.
We all know there’s a gap between how old folks feel about same-sex marriage and how young folks feel. What you might not quite grasp is just how tremendous that gap is. A new paper (“Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness” [PDF]) by Jefferey Lax and Justin Phillips puts it in a bit of perspective.
Just how big is the gay marriage age gap? Between the under-30 crowd and the over-65 crowd: 35 percentage points.
Or, try this on for size, at the state level: If people over 65 in each state made the laws, 0 states would have gay marriage; if people under 30 made the laws, 38 states would have gay marriage.
That’s from Texas down on the chart below:
Young folks are the red squares, old folks are the blue diamonds (sorry, no pink hearts, orange stars, or yellow moons). Here in New York, for instance, support for a state same-sex marriage law is at around 70% among the young, just over 50% overall — the holdouts are, of course, the old folks at around 32% support.
What does it mean? Well, it means the overwhelming majority of states are likely to have gay marriage laws in most of our lifetimes. But what does it mean more specifically? Is the state-by-state, federalist approach the right one? How is opinion likely to evolve in the future?
On the federalism question, the paper is relatively clear: “National policy has indeed been more resistant to pro-gay opinion than state-set policy.” And the federal government is, indeed, far behind many states on most gay-rights policy questions — and on some questions the federal government is merely silent (is that so terrible? things are often so much better when the feds keep silent).
On the state level, government policy has been much more in line (or, as the paper puts it, congruent) with pro-gay sentiment. Though, even there it’s hardly perfect:
Interestingly, most non-congruence is in the conservative direction. Majority will is not trumped by pro-gay elites—rather, opinion and policy are disconnected in a way that works against the interests of gays and lesbians. In other words, we do not ﬁnd any evidence suggesting a consistent pro-gay bias in policymaking, as is often argued by opponents of gay rights. Nor is there evidence that governmental elites override conservative opinion majorities.
It is also notable that the preferences of religious conservatives are “over-represented.” Their share of the population shapes policy even beyond directly affecting public opinion and the composition of state governments. Powerful conservative religious interest groups also strongly affect gay rights policy at the expense of majoritarian congruence.”
That’s right: The Christian Right can shove it (for oh-so-many reasons). While state policy is better at keeping up with pro-gay public opinion, it still lags (see: New York) — and religious conservatives, far from being “silenced” by an all-powerful gay Left, have a much bigger megaphone than they deserve.
As for where opinion will go from here — well, I think that’s a fool’s errand. The great question is whether the young people who support gay marriage now will come to oppose it when they’re the 65 year olds. But there’s no reason to think opinion on gay marriage would follow the trajectory of opinion on things like drugs and abortion.
For one thing, most obviously, young people now live knowing lots of gay people whereas old folks say they don’t know any gay people. Check out the charts below (source: here):
While there’s more contour to this, dropping off at about age 55, people say they know no gay people — and, surprise, they also oppose gay marriage. Young people know a lot of gay people, they support gay marriage.
Unless all of our gay friends are going somewhere between now and when we get to our 60s — aliens? a very angry Jesus? — I don’t think many people my age are going to go backward on this issue. Indeed, I think we’re moving forward.
HT: The Monkey Cage