The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

A Matter of Time

There’s one thing I forgot to mention in my post-YearlyKos breakdown. Actually it’s something I forgot to reiterate, because I’ve pointed it out before. Anyway, it bears repeating. Maybe, just maybe, progressive and Democrats don’t need to run scared from the issue of same-sex marriage or marriage equality or whatever you want to call it. The reason is simple. Conservatives are running out of time to exploit the issue, and they know it.

Even Bill Bennett get it. So it shouldn’t be that hard for progressive netroots to get it.

Even some conservatives columnists get that the right is losing on gay rights.

… more than half of Americans endorse either gay marriage or civil unions–which are marriages in all but name. Two states (Vermont and Connecticut) have legalized civil unions, without attracting 1 percent of the attention that has gone to Massachusetts. Once considered a radical step, this has taken on the look of a soothing, sensible compromise.

A more telling sign is the huge shift in opinion on discrimination. In 1977, when Gallup asked if homosexuals should have “equal rights in terms of job opportunities,” 56 percent said yes and 33 percent no. Nowadays, opposition to this form of gay rights has only slightly broader appeal than the Socialist Workers Party. This year, 89 percent of Americans favored equal employment rights, with only 9 percent disagreeing.

Frank Rich explains that a drop in opposition to same sex-sex marriage, even on the eve of the Senate FMA vote, is probably one reason why conservatives have turn to immigrant bashing of late.

“Gay people, though traditionally handy for that role, aren’t the surefire scapegoats they once were; support for a constitutional marriage amendment, ABC News found, fell to 42 percent just before the Senate vote,” Rich writes.

“Hence the rise of a juicier target: Hispanics,” Rich continues. “They are the new gays, the foremost political pinata in the election year of 2006.”

And if the numbers against us are falling now, they’re only going to get lower if William Strauss — author of Millennials Rising : The Next Great Generation (Vintage Original) — and the social research mentioned that Deb Price mentioned in her column are both right. The number will continue to go down because according to Strauss the “Millennials” are the next influential generation of American politics, and according to recent research they’re pretty supportive of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

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.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the credit for this goes largely to gays and lesbians — from every day folks to activists — who’ve come out and educated their families and communities, started families of their own, pushed for more (and more accurate) media representation of gays & lesbians, advocated for equal rights and protections, etc. These are kids who’ve grown up with openly gay people in their families (perhaps even with gay parents), seen gays portrayed honestly on television and in movies, or gone to school with gay peers or peers who have gay parents.

If there’s been a shift in younger generations, it’s largely because we — the gay netroots — have been “doing our job.” It’s what BIll Bennett is talking about when he says “gay marriage is coming.” He says it’s because “the courts have done it,” but I think he knows that the the California legislature elected by the people of California has done it.

He and his bigoted brethren know that the Maryland legislature elected by the people of Maryland came pretty close to doing it. They read the same numbers everybody else does. And they know that if the generations of voters mentioned above have any influence more citizen-elected legislatures will do it, and there may not be republican governors there to veto it. So, as I noted earlier, it goes back to Jonathan Rauch’s argument that the FMA isn’t an attempt to keep “activist judges” from foisting same-sex marriage on voters. It’s an attempted end-run around future voters who may legalize it at the ballot box.

Price thinks the “tipping point” for this generation to make its political influence felt on gay issues is due in about 10 years. Maybe less. And 10 years sounds reasonable to me. So why are so many in the progressive netroots, including some gay people I’ve talked to, deeply quaffing the Kool-Aid of incrementalism?

In the face of a fiery debate on same-sex marriage that has galvanized their opponents, gay rights groups are focusing on quieter fights within states and corporations, attempting to build an everyday acceptance of homosexuality they hope will promote societal change.

From gay adoption to anti-discrimination rules to domestic partnership policies, these campaigns amount to a long-term, piecemeal strategy rather than one seeking immediate, sweeping change. They are designed to be realistic about what Americans will accept while laying the groundwork for future advances.

“The challenge for us is to find as many creative ways as we can to reach as many Americans as we can,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the large gay and lesbian civil rights group. “To me, the work of moving the American people toward marriage equality is about moving people toward a greater understanding and respect of same-sex relationships.”

If all of the above is any indication, the American people are moving towards a “greater understanding and respect of same-sex relationships.” I was working at HRC ten years ago, when the Hawaii case was looming on the horizon and the marriage issue was before us. Marriage was an issue that bubbled up from the grassroots, from the bottom up, and the numbers were dismal no matter how you looked at it. Ten years later, the numbers have changed, but the approach from the top hasn’t, pretty much across the board.

If the tipping point is ten years away, or less, isn’t now the time to lead by example? If more people are shifting in favor of equality, than gay organizations and progressive leadership could conceivably hasten that tipping point if they have the courage of their conviction and lead by example on the issue.

That is, of course, if they actually want to hasten the tipping point towards equality.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Terrence. I love your writing and had a question for you. You said:

    If more people are shifting in favor of equality, than gay organizations and progressive leadership could conceivably hasten that tipping point if they have the courage of their conviction and lead by example on the issue.

    What sort of equality are looking for us to push for? Because it seems that HRC, the organization that you imply we should be pushing, wants a particular kind of equality: “To me, the work of moving the American people toward marriage equality is about moving people toward a greater understanding and respect of same-sex relationships.”

    Same-sex relationships rather than same-sex sexual activity, same-sex desire, or same-sex identity (as examples). I, to be honest, am wary about using any current organization whether it be the Democratic Party or HRC to push for “equality,” because I don’t think that the type of equality they want will effectively change anything substantial. In particular, the disruption of “the normal” as a positive value. Right now, that realm is represented by monogamous coupling. If we achieve that, something will take its place. And HRC isn’t prepared to deal with that because they seem to only care for their own (see their near-cave on Social Security a year back).

  2. Pingback: As of yet unnamed » Blog Archive » Young, Pro-Gay, Non-Voters.

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