The Marriage Generation Gap

Written by by Joe Girton, Winter/Spring intern, Freedom to Marry.

A new report from the Human Rights Campaign shows public support for LGBT issues like marriage steadily pushing upward.

We've all felt the optimism lately: new pro-marriage governors elected and the freedom to marry on the horizon in Maryland, Rhode Island, and New York this year.

And now, another set of reassuring numbers. The report starts off big, citing two polls from 2010 finding that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans support ending marriage discrimination: 52% to be exact. Not a huge margin – but the trend is securely upward, especially if we contrast this number with the 25% figure recorded in 1996, the year the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" was passed.

These numbers confirm that what we’ve been working towards for ages is very much in sight: the DOMA era is on its way out.

The report goes on to say that younger people are far more likely to support the freedom to marry. A University of Maryland poll showed that nearly two-thirds of "younger voters" support ending marriage discrimination. Additionally, 80% of respondents in a November 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center agreed that a gay or lesbian couple raising a child is "a family," compared to only 63% in the general population.

Why the generation gap?

I’m convinced it has something to do with another number: today, according to a 2010 CBS poll, 77% of Americans say they know someone who is gay or lesbian, a statistic that looks (and is) astronomical next to its 1992 counterpart: only 42%.

My generation is going about things differently. Things are changing so fast that in the four short years I spent in high school, our suburban Los Angeles campus went from having one or two openly gay students and no Gay-Straight Alliance when I arrived in 10th grade, to a GSA with more than a hundred members and a respectably-sized gay and lesbian population by the time I graduated last June.

This reality echoes one of the final, bold statements of the HRC report: "We are everywhere."

It’s a lot harder to tell your son, daughter, friend, or neighbor that you don’t think they should be allowed to marry their committed partner than it is to be ideologically opposed. That’s why this number is so important: as more and more young (and older) people are coming out to the people they care about, marriage is becoming more and more of a no-brainer: the inevitability that my friends and I have always assumed it to be.

That said, I live in a bubble. I grew up with liberal, accepting parents in L.A., I know and respect loving and committed couples from all walks of life, and I now go to college in New York City with a phenomenal group of friends.

These statistics bolster my hope – no, my certainty – that the fortunate experience I’ve had won’t be so much of a rarity in the future as the norm: that it truly will "Get Better" on so many levels.