Parents Just Don’t Understand, But Maybe Young People Don’t Either (About Gay Rights)

When we talk about the future of issues that currently stand in the way of true equality for queers, we often talk about a kind of inevitability connected to age. The idea is that once the population that’s currently in high school and college, the generation that grew up with Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga, is middle-aged, they’ll make political decisions that reflect the fact that gay people are familiar and relatively nonthreatening to them. In short, the fight for equality is at least on some level just a waiting game.

Although polls do generally show that younger people are more supportive of gay issues, and tend to have more out gay friends (and other polls have shown that people who know at least one out gay people are statistically more likely to support their cause), that may not mean that all it takes to stop being second-class citizens is waiting until Jedward fans can vote. In the aftermath of North Carolina’s Amendment One vote, The American points out that while we might like to think that the same vote would look drastically different if we just fast-forward 30 years, that’s not necessarily something we can count on.

The argument that Lazar Berman and Daniel Berman make is that while it’s true homosexuality and gay people are more likely to be perceived as normal by young people, that’s not the same thing as “support.” While there were no exit polls for the vote in North Carolina, it appears that young voters actually fell along similar lines as the general population — SurveyUSA found that the overall breakdown was 57-37, while young voters were at 41-48. This appears to imply that there were more “undecided” voters in the younger age group, but as The American points out, voters who are undecided in polls almost always end up voting against same-sex marriage when they reach the voting booth. Berman and Berman assert that “even if nobody over age 45 had voted Tuesday, the amendment still would have passed by around 8 percentage points, according to the adjusted data above.”

Much of the thinking behind much of the campaign for marriage equality has worked off of the premise that to know us is to support us. But these numbers indicate that it may not mean “supporting” us so much as “tolerating” us. And if we’re going to radically change the personal and legal experience of gay people in America, we’ll need a great deal of active solidarity from straight people (and especially young ones), not just what Berman and Berman term “opposing something less stridently” than others. It’s painful to recognize, but while the fact of our inherent worth as people is obvious to us and seems as though it must be obvious to anyone growing up right now, we apparently still need to make our case more actively to the nation as a whole, and perhaps especially to those people who are heading to the polls for the first time in 2012, or even 2016. Although we shouldn’t need to lobby anyone for validation of our right to equal treatment, especially kids who have lived through the bullying epidemic that’s changed the entire conversation about being gay, it might also be a mistake to think that we don’t need to.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Thank you so much for this post.
    Sometimes it seems like we’ll be able to just ride some sort of wave of momentum that can deliver us right to the social change we want. That is such a mistake though, change isn’t inevitable, change only happens when people KEEP PUSHING FOR IT ALL THE WAY TO THE VERY END!

    • To use a quote I have on a t-shirt:

      “People always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
      -Andy Warhol

  2. The youth are just going off of whatever their elders taught them. Its truly the kids who know how to think for themselves or just the people who were raised right who are going to have to take the reigns and push the universal ideal of equality forward.

  3. Considering the bullying epidemic was happening to a lot of young kids in school, this doesn’t surprise me.

    One of the few immutable facts of life is that every era has its morons.

  4. Yeah, I’ve noticed that anti-gay young people are far less likely to care as much about that issue, or to be mean to LGBT people they know, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take the opportunity to vote away their rights when they can.

    That being said, there’s been such an utter reversal of the public opinion on same-sex marriage that it is really hard to not see our eventual political equality as inevitable. Our generation might not change the debate any time soon but that doesn’t mean we won’t eventually have an effect.

    What really needs to happen anyway is we need to have some sort of Supreme Court decision that keeps people from putting LGBT rights up to a vote, since it’s in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment anyway (and also an example of something that James Madison explicitly warns against in Federalist Papers 10 and 51). Whether enthusiastic or apathetic, young people are never going to be able to do much about it on their own because we’re not a big enough part of the voting bloc – older, more conservative voters show up in percentages way higher than their actual slice of the population – so we really need to keep people who haven’t gotten on board yet from voting away our rights while we continue trying to push the people who DO get it to care enough to enshrine our equality into law.

  5. I wonder if this isn’t somewhat parallel to racism. As in, it’s a lot less socially acceptable to be openly and aggressively racist than it used to be, but there are still many people who are deeply racist and simply keep somewhat quiet about it in public.

    Now it’s becoming less acceptable to be overtly homophobic, but plenty of people still are behind closed doors.

  6. As a high school student in England I see that most young people support ‘equal rights’ for gays, yet do not support equal marriage saying that we should just be happy with civil partnerships (which are legal here) and claiming that is pure equality. It’s better than nothing but I think it’s subtly implying our relationships are inferior to het ones.

    Also apathy is a problem. I know a lot of people who believe in the right things rights wise, but rarely act to actually bring change and equality about.

    Saying that, I’m a member of Liberal Youth and the young people there actively campaign for equal marriage in this country, so that’s something good!

    • Liberal Youth? No way!
      I was a member until I quit a few weeks ago over the health bill, but they are campaigning for it heavier than any other wing of a political party, IMO.
      Where are you from? I didn’t know young lib dems existed any more, this is a happy realisation :’)

      • Hell yeah we’re alive and kicking! I’m from Befordshire and my village has a strong LD reputation although my MP is Nadine Dorries so this is very sad… Hoping to get myself elected onto the LY International Committee in a couple of weeks as we do a lot of international liaising and campaigning as well as domestic stuff. Compared to the Labour and Conservative youth organisations we’re pretty small but full of really nice, motivated people.

        If you fancy a browse we have a blog which all members can contribute to, and there’s some very interesting articles on there. 4 posts down there’s even an article by me :) #Shamelessplug

  7. Interestingly, while I’m also at high school in England (first year of sixth form), I’ve actually found most people are supportive. That’s despite the fact it’s a private Church of England school – Conservativism is rife, but most people are down with the idea of equal rights.

    I’m openly not straight, and have been for about 2 years, and I guess it’s had an impact; people who used to be really homophobic are now a lot better, or keep it to themselves. A girl who told me in Year 8 that “all gays should be killed” told me in Year 11 that she was really happy for me and my then-girlfriend.

    That, and when I get angry about gay marriage not being legal, people support me. All my friends are straight and get just as mad as I do, right up to emailing MPs about it, and my Catholic friend sees divorce as a waaaay bigger concern to the sanctity of marriage than gay rights.

    tl;dr – I think most people do have the right idea here about equality, and anyone I know personally who doesn’t is either my dad or not my friend.

  8. I think a lot of young kids end up voting what their parents do, and take on their parent’s beliefs at that age because they haven’t yet had the experience to form their own opinions. *shrug*

  9. Surely the ‘institute of marriage’ as a ‘religious union’ is obsolete now?
    Heterosexual people get married in churches, quote the bible, and sing hymns even if they don’t consider themselves to be practising any religion.
    So if allowing gay people to marry is undermining traditional marriage then surely all those ‘het’ folks doing the fake Christian thing is as well.
    Too much hypocrisy.
    Basically, there is no justifiable reason why us gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry. It’s just a shame that so many young people that, as you say, are OK with gay people, don’t push themselves to think about it further. As it goes, young people often feel like it’s a bad thing to be passionate about anything, or to get angry in reaction to injustices – this needs to be challenged.
    Equality for one group is, as they say, equality for all. Gay marriage could challenge many of the structural and emotional obstacles to equality that are present at the moment. I’m all for making the practical change in order to encourage people to ‘evolve’ (:p) regarding certain issues.
    Thinking about things like this should be encouraged in school, I think. Life isn’t all about arithmetic.

  10. There is absolutely no reason that marriage should be a religious institution. In fact, it really isn’t one. The only reason that ministers have the authority to oversee a marriage ritual is that in the founding years of America, ministers were pretty accessible. As were ship’s captains, who also have the authority to oversee a marriage ritual. Conservative religious folks like my parents, can’t separate the religious teachings against homosexuality (which there are only a small handful in the Bible but bucketloads in cultural teachings) from the social issues of equal rights for every person. Why the question of who puts what where in a bedroom in Brooklyn has any impact on my mother’s faith in Michigan is beyond my comprehension.
    Marriage equality needs to be a separate issue from religion. However, the two are so tightly intertwined in many cultural pockets so it’s going to take awhile to change. People are fierce about their beliefs or lack of beliefs, I get that and I respect that. What I don’t get or respect is when that ferocity shits all over my desire to have equal rights.

    • I totally agree that I can’t comprehend the whole marriage and religion debate. Even if you disregard it’s history as being to deal with property, if Catholics are not married in the church their marriage is ‘not recognized by God’. So if you are ignoring all the marriages that take place at courthouses as shams, what do you care who they are between? Furthermore if marriages are religious, which I totally respect a church’s right to feel that way, then the government should grant unions, partnerships, whatever you want to call them to all people of legal consenting age, etc. and marriages should be only held in churches. I just can’t wrap my brain around the thinking of some people and I want to at least try to understand where it is coming from. If it is the whole slippery slope thing then I thing the slope started when they let straight people get married, I mean that’s totally where we got the idea from.

      • I agree with you both. Really, the whole thing is a bizarre (or cruel) joke. As you say, many of the original reasons stemmed from accessibility and property. And women AS property. Just like religion has been used as a way to control people, marriage has also been used in that way. It has duped many people out of their financial and individual freedom.
        In a way, its a lot about semantics, today. The word ‘marriage’ doesn’t really suffice – unless we accept that the meaning and implications of the word and institution have changed considerably over the years. Guess we gotta ‘reclaim’ the word.
        Might be fun to come up with a new one though – one that solely describes the union of two people – of whatever variety and combination – because they love each other very much!

  11. “Even if nobody over age 45 had voted Tuesday, the amendment still would have passed by around 8 percentage points.”

    This is really depressing, and not at all what I would have expected.

  12. I’m going to be a statistics nerd and point out that even in that poll, the 18-29 year olds voted against at much higher levels than the 30-45 year olds, and they voted against more than the 46-65. So, the main point is still that young people are voting against inequality in higher numbers. Period.

    The reason I have even more hope though, is that these young people (especially those who are 18-24) may STILL not know many out gay people. They may even self-segregate in college to the point that that they know almost none even upon graduating. However, with more people in this world being out at younger ages, they will inevitably be more socialized by knowing and maybe even caring about LGBT people than their parents did. And to me that that is the true place where the support happens, those closer friend and family relationships that make people care and vote accordingly.

    That said, I agree wholeheartedly with Carmen SanDiego that “Civil rights should not be dependent on a benevolent majority…” So none of this really ought to matter IMHO. We didn’t let Alabama vote on desegregation (and as an Alabamian I say that was a good thing) and I think it’s reprehensible that anyone is voting now on anyone’s rights. Period.

    • Nice closing point. That’s a debate in itself. Rights are a real puzzle. Just thinking Hegel and Marx, here.

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