The following, hard as it might be to believe, is a true story. The setting: Driving in the family car to a lavish lunch at the local Carls Jr. drive-thru. Saturday afternoon, November 1st. 2008.
My four year-old daughter is absorbed by a Disney cartoon on her seatback DVD player, while my seven year-old son fidgets in the back seat. I have lunch duty with my kids, because my wife is on a deadline, and needed to go into the firm on Saturday to tie up some loose ends. I am listening to a college football game on the radio when my son interrupts the play-by-play from the backseat:
"Hey, Dad, how are we going to vote on Proposition 8?"
Aside from the plural "we", which I found kind of cute, this was not the question I was hoping for. Discussions on marriage with a second grader is not my idea of a fun conversation, "traditional" or same sex.
"Why do you ask, buddy?"
"Well, Dad. I have been thinking about it. And I talked about it with some friends at school. And I think we ought to vote "yes."
This comes, to say the least, as a shock. I am pretty well to the left-of-center politically, and my wife, if anything, is to my left. So, hearing my elementary school-aged son coming out as a proponent of marriage discrimination was a bit of an eye-opener.
I need to get to the bottom of this...
"Really, bud. Well, why do you think that?"
"Well, Dad, that would make it illegal for a boy to marry a boy, and a girl to marry a girl, right?"
"Yes, Cody, that's what Proposition 8 would do."
"Well, I think that it should be illegal."
This is where the speculation sets in. Has his teacher been pushing this? Is one of his buddies the product of a very conservative home, and they have pushed the issue with their kids? Who knows?
"Hey, Cody, why do you think it ought to be illegal?"
"Because, Dad, I don't want to marry a boy. I want to marry a girl. You know, like Kate or somebody."
I start breathing again. He thinks "same sex marriage" is somehow a mandatory thing, and that Prop 8 is the thin line between marriage the way he has always understood it, and some bizarre new world where only boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.
"No...buddy. It is not like that. Prop 8 makes it illegal for boys to marry boys, or girls to marry girls, if they want to. It won't change who you get to marry."
Silence from the backseat. Wheels, quite clearly, are turning.
"Oh...well...that's okay then. Besides, why should I care who someone else marries??!!"
Kids get it.
And that is the only saving grace out of disappointments like California's Proposition 8 and Maine's Question 1. It was echoed again this week when in his moving post-mortem on Wednesday morning, Bill in Portland Maine found some comfort in the otherwise dreary data post-election:
This morning the words of America's first openly-gay Episcopal Bishop, V. Gene Robinson---who has endured bigotry of the worst kind, including an assassination attempt---are soothing my savage manboobs. Robinson visited Portland several weeks ago to talk about Question 1. He raised the all-too-real possibility that things wouldn’t go our way this time. And now that the results are in and the vote didn’t go our way, his words are helping me this morning. A lot.
He said that we've already won this fight, it's just a question of timing. Here's what he means. Look at this result from last night, courtesy of Adam Bink at Open Left. It is the only thing I've shed tears over this morning, and they are happy ones:
Final numbers are in from [University of Maine]-Orono campus- 81% No, 19% Yes.
A 'No' vote was a vote to keep the same-sex marriage law in place. Look at that: 81 percent No, 19 percent Yes. That's the future of gay rights in America. It's coming. It's on our doorstep. It's just a matter of time. All Schubert-Flint and NOM and the Catholic church did last night was kick the can down the road a bit.
More than any other demographic cohort, the issue of support of same-sex marriage, and, for that matter, all manners of gay rights, breaks down on the issue of age. More than race, more than wealth.
It is even greater than the red state/blue state divide, as evidenced by a fascinating table at the website Sociological Images (h/t: Taegan Goddard):
This chart comes from a demographic study which estimated support for same-sex marriage based on fifteen years of data (with the data weighted by most recent results). While it is an estimate, it is worth noting that its placement of California and Maine right on the 50/50 border is, at worst, only a slightly optimistic assessment.
One can draw a trio critical conclusions from this study:
- The age divide is far greater than the gaping political chasm that exists between red states and blue states. Even in traditionally hostile states like Alabama and Mississippi, voters aged 18-29 are likely to be supportive of same-sex marriage at a higher rate than elderly voters even in traditionally supportive states like Massachusetts and Vermont.
- There is a sizeable gap between the attitudes of voters aged 65 and over and those in the next nearest age cohort (45-64). In fact, the chart shows that a majority of the states in America have a higher rate of support for same-sex marriage among the voters aged 45-64 than the best state performance (Massachusetts) for voters over the age of 65. Indeed, a dozen states appear to see that age cohort with at least 45% support for same-sex marriage, a plurality that would certainly be pushed over the top by the support by youngest voters.
- Conversely, in only a dozen states do we see less than majority support for same-sex marriage among voters 18-29. Even traditionally conservative states like Kansas, Idaho, and Wyoming see majority support from their youngest voters.
The bottom line is this--not only, as BiPM noted on Wednesday, is the clock ticking on the political strength of the opponents of marriage equity, it could be coming quicker than we think. What this survey makes clear is that the elderly voters of the next decade are nowhere near as condemning of same-sex marriage as their elders.
We can already see it in the rare examples where similar measures have been on the ballot some years apart. Take my home state of California. In the Spring of 2000, conservatives placed an anti-marriage equity law onto the ballot. It was known as Proposition 22. It not only passed in this nominally blue state, it was not even close: the measure passed by 1.7 million votes (PDF file), a decisive 61-39 win.
Proposition 8 was a bitter pill for the gay community, indeed all progressives, to swallow. That said, there was some hope in how dramatically the landscape had changed in eight years: the margin had been cut from 22 points to just four points (PDF file). Even in the heavily enhanced turnout (13.4 million votes cast, versus just 7.5 million votes cast in the election which decided Prop 22), the margin was down to just 600,000 votes.
And the chart above makes something else clear: with each passing year, as macabre as it may seem to consider, a group of voters hostile to the issue of marriage equality are going to be replaced by voters who are substantially more likely to support the cause.
Bill in Portland Maine is right--the advocates for Question 1 only succeeded in kicking the can down the road. What might be greater cause for optimism is the data seems to hint that the can may not have been even kicked all that far.