Signaling a generational shift in attitudes, a new Field Poll on Tuesday said California voters now support legal marriage between same-sex couples and oppose a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
By 51 to 42 percent, state voters believe gay couples have the right to marry, according to a May 17-26 poll of 1,052 registered voters.
However, the same poll revealed a California electorate that remains sharply divided over gay marriage – split by age, political affiliation, religion and the regions where they live.
In some ways that’s not surprising, since the legislature sent marriage equality legislation to the governor not once but twice. Sure, he vetoed the legislation not each time. But the legislature that sent him those bills was elected by the people of California. So, maybe that reflects a change in public opinion. After all, even Arnold has changed his mind since then. In fact, he says it might even be good for the economy.
But what interesting about the latest California poll is that it spotlights a divide that bodes well for the future of marriage equality in California.
Reflecting stark differences in generational attitudes, 68 percent of voters between 18 and 29 years old said they favored allowing same-sex couples to marry. Fifty-eight percent of voters 30 to 39 and 51 percent of voters 40-49 favored gay marriage. That compared with 47 percent of voters 50-64 and 36 percent of those over 65 who supported the idea.
“As young people are replacing older people, voters are more supportive,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the California Field Poll. “The trend line itself is historic. The lines are crossing. This is a major sociological event in California.”
The results weren’t a surprise to Kari Bodine, 34, a Field Poll respondent from Sacramento County who is raising two children with her female partner.
“I don’t need polling data to tell me that I am getting a different attitude these days,” said Bodine, who with her partner got a marriage license in San Francisco before the state Supreme Court ruling. “I’m president of my daughter’s school PTA. Everybody knows. And nobody questions me.”
It’s no surprise to me either. Like I said before, it’s just a matter of time.
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.
It’s because of something Ed noted.
The strategy has lasted this long because it works, but only for a time. Before long, public opinion evolves away from bigotry and toward extending the promises of our founding. When the same cards were played by those who opposed civil rights for blacks in the 1950s – “If you let those negroes have their way, they’ll be coming for your daughters next!” – it worked, for a time. But when the dire predictions of impending doom from the leaders of the reactionary mob don’t come true, the public no longer takes those leaders seriously.
What changed our minds about blacks is the same thing that will change our minds about gays – getting to know them.
Now virtually everyone knows gay people, or knows that they know them at least. As more straight people interact with gay people in business, at school, in the media, even in church, it becomes harder and harder to cast them in the role of Them. We can listen to the songs of Melissa Etheridge, for example, and it makes us understand that gays go through the same experiences we do – they fall in love, they hurt each other and get hurt, they break up and feel angry or sad. We can see our gay friends interact with their lovers and, more and more, with their children, and we see that they are no different than we are. They love just like we do. They get angry just like we do. Their children misbehave just like ours do and they have to clean up the dirty diapers just like we do. And after a while, they are no longer Them, they’re Us.
And which I expanded upon then.
And you’ll see us in your neighborhoods, cutting our lawns and picking up the mail. Our kids will probably play together, do school projects together and we’ll probably end up bumping into each other at PTA meetings and graduations. Our families will probably join us at company picnics alongside yours. And so on, and so on.
Eventually, if we don’t hide ourselves and our lives, simply humanity will wear down hatred and erode it away.
That’s what we hope for anyway. And that’s what the other side fears. And why they’re in such a hurry.
And maybe that’s why they will fail.
Deb Price told us about it two years ago.
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.
Even Bill Bennett got it already.
Well, he almost got it.
The courts may be doing it. But really, it’s happening because we’re doing it — making commitments to each other, building families together, coming out in our communities, and just living our lives.
It’s happening because, children in our communities see our families, they play with our kids, and maybe that’s an effective counter to kids learning homophobia.
The parents and kids at Parker’s day care all know he has a Daddy and a Papa, and on Father’s day he makes two cards. The families in our new neighborhood are just as accepting. When we lived in D.C., nobody in our babysitting co-op batted an eye at us or the three other sets of same-sex parents. None of the kids appeared to think anything of it. One little girl did ask me about it when I was babysitting her, and it was a pretty easy conversation.
“He’s at home with his Papa?”
“His other daddy??
“How come Parker has two Daddies?”
“Well, there are lots of different kinds of families. Some have a mommy and a daddy. But some have two mommies or two daddies, or even just one mommy or just one daddy. It’s kind of like ice cream. There’s lots of flavors, like vanilla or chocolate, but it’s all still ice cream.”
“You forgot strawberry ice cream.”
“Well, then, there’s strawberry ice cream too.”
“My birthday is coming up, and I’m going to have strawberry ice cream and vanilla cake.”
And that was it. If kids learn homophobia as early as three, my experience suggests they learn it from their parents. If the parents are cool with it, so will the kids be.
It’s happening because, in communities across the country people are seeing our children grow up alogn with theirs. It’s happening because people know us.
This Friday, I had something anyone who’s ever lived through the first few months of parenting a newborn will understand is something to be treasured: a day off. The rest of the family left the house in the morning, and I went back to bed. But, of course, we never take a day off from being parents. Not that I want to, mind you, but those few extra hours of sleep Friday morning (I went back to bed. Surprised?) were sweet.
I’d taken the day off, because Parker’s pre-school was having a special performance, and of course we were going to be there to see it. Parker had been talking about it for the past month. At first he decided he was going to dance, and after he picked a song I burned it to CD so that he could take it to school with him and practice. But I know my son. He’s very stage shy. At home, with us as an audience, he sings, dances and puts on quite a show. But he generally prefers not to be in the spotlight and not to be the center a big audience’s attention.
So I wasn’t surprised when he announced that he’d volunteered (with one other child) for the job of handing out tickets. (Pieces of construction paper colored by Parkers class served as “tickets.”) I told him, “That’s a very important job. If nobody handed out tickets, there’d be no audience to see the show,” and that Daddy and Papa would be there so he could give us our tickets. And he did, as well as handing tickets to other parents as they arrived. He even helped with some of the props for the other students performances.
We were very proud and we told him so.
Afterwards, we chatted with some of the other parents, many of whom have known our family for the past five years as Parker and their kids grew up together one class after another. They congratulated us on Dylan’s addition to the family, and especially Parker as he proudly introduced them to his little brother. We’d see some of those parents again over the weekend, since Parker was invited to yet another birthday party.
They know our family. They’ve seen our family. Their kids know our family, and have seen our family because we’ve come to so many events, come to pick Parker up together, come to parent-teacher meetings, parent association meetings, and chaperoned on field trips. To their kids we are Parker’s Daddy and Parker’s Papa. They know gay families exist, because they know a gay family.
It’s happening because when people know us, we’re no longer an “issue” they address only in the abstract. We’re no longer theoretical. We’re neighbors, community members, family, and friends. It’s happening because once people know us, we’re real people in a real family, not phantom scapegoats.
Sometimes, not interacting with fine gay and lesbian families on a day-to-day basis, this campaign for their civil rights, to marry those they love wholeheartedly, and to raise the children they cherish, seems theoretical. This weekend it came home a bit more. Perhaps oddly, the issue came home while I was in the ocean up to my waist and waiting to grab the next wave. Yeah, I was body surfing when a young forcibly man caught my attention.
I knew “Scott,” and he knew me. We both go to the same section of beach on the Jersey shore every weekend. He’d engaged me and my wife in conversation the week before concerning his search for buried treasure with his metal detector. We’ve also seen him on his bicycle on several occasions. Scott is 11, and as he told me Saturday, twelve years old next month. I’m not sure what it is about me that made him think I’d be a welcome audience, but Scott also told me much, much more about his life on Saturday, there while we were bobbing in the surf waiting for the next wave. It all came in a blur of words, as only an 11 year old can string them together. His mother had died when he was young, his Dad was nowhere around, and Scott had been adopted. Then he revealed, proudly, that he had two gay Dads. The boy was positively beaming when he revealed it, as he challenged the next wave.
In this day, as an adult we don’t always adress children, afraid, I suppose, that someone is going to arch their eyebrows and wonder at our interest. In this type of situation my wife often thinks I’m a bit careless, but my instinct is to talk with the kid when adressed. And I did so. Still, it seemed odd to me that Scott, all 4′8″ of him, told me about his two gay Dads out there in the surf. And a few minutes later I suggested to Scott that it was time for him to go and introduce me to his Dads.
No, it was not odd to go up and meet “Robert” and “Randall.” There they were lounging in beach chairs, soaking up the rays. We came forward and I prompted Scott, who, like a good young gentleman, introduced us in as polite a manner as might be. (My goodness, if my own neices and nephews were so polite, I’d have quite a collection of thank you letters, wouldn’t I?) It turns our summer homes are down the block from each other. Robert and Randall seem as middle class and boring as my wife and myself. It may even be that we’re better at interior decorating than they are. Oh, we’ll see. I’m planning on inviting them over next time we’re down the shore.
It’s happening. Whether the California Supreme Court ruling stands or not, it’s happening. It’s happening, because we’re happening.