The kids are all right.
Tell a Millennial that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, unconstitutional, and we will look at you as though you had just announced that the 9th Circuit had ruled that the sky was blue, that oxygen was pleasant to inhale or that texting was always preferable to talking.
Of course! The proposition simply acted to “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians”? That’s — well, as Thomas Jefferson would say — it’s self-evident.
We Millennials list among our hobbies texting, Facebooking, purchasing ironic merchandise with owls on it and waiting for the elderly to keel over so we no longer have to discuss social issues with them.
It’s like getting your great-aunts on e-mail. They persist in clicking the one thing that you obviously and blatantly would never click in your wildest dreams, the one icon that deletes your file and causes your computer to fold out into a biplane. It’s the same way with discussions like this. “I mean, of course,” we say. “I mean, it’s — everyone deserves the same rights. That’s mind-blowingly obvious. Even Thomas Jefferson knew it, and he was confused about a lot of things.”
“But why marriage?” they say. “Marriage, traditionally, is an institution that is between one man and one woman. . .”
“Are we really going with the [institution] is traditionally [something] argument?” we say. “The institution of doing laundry is traditionally accomplished by beating clothes with a mallet in a running stream — yes, that’s an imprecise analogy. But why is it that when an institution is suffering, your first response is to ban the people most excited about joining?”
We try another tack. “Look,” we say, “as 18- to 29-year-olds, we are the ones who generally are stuck going to these wedding things. We are the despondent-looking singles next to the ice sculptures. If there were some just way to decrease the number of weddings we were required to attend, we would be all over that. But there isn’t.”
“In fact,” we say, warming to our argument, “I would argue that there are fewer greater injustices than forcing people to attend your destination weddings with choirs of swans who have no way of legally retaliating.”
Then someone mentions Leviticus and, for all intents and purposes, the conversation is over.
Statistically speaking, Millennials — even Republican Millennials (admittedly a small sample in the study) and, to a lesser degree, evangelicals — are massively more likely than our aged counterparts to favor gay marriage. A full 62 percent of us, in July of 2011, supported it; 71 percent supported civil unions. And the same survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that — except in rural areas and the South — you were more likely to be frowned on by your peers for opposing gay marriage than favoring it. Seniors were the only group more likely to have grown less tolerant on this issue. Move to a retirement community where all your peers are septuagenarians or so, and suddenly it’s uncomfortable to be the only tolerant person there.
Meanwhile, one of the few statistical predictors for Millennials not believing in gay marriage was attending church multiple times a week to hear a sermon that said homosexuality was wrong — which, when you think about it, makes sense.
To the rest of us, it seems almost not worth discussing. We came from the store this way. Explain ourselves? What’s to explain? Talk long enough to the elderly, and you get the sense that they consider gay people a sort of urban legend, a malevolent unicorn out to glitter our candidates for office and destroy society as we know it. We know better. Even Lady Gaga does.
But the report suggests that the tide of history is in our favor. Unless there is something in our smartphones that turns out to be horrifyingly carcinogenic, we are going to outlive the opponents of gay marriage. Eventually we’ll forget that this was an issue, and our children will all be too busy accusing us of being discriminatory towards robots to listen to our stories of fighting the good fight.
Well, if we had any stories of fighting the good fight. One trouble the study found was that the people who support gay marriage are not nearly so enthusiastic as the people who oppose it. People in favor of it tend to consider it so obvious that we think other things, like, say, jobs, are more important. And this is how we wind up with Prop 8’s getting passed.
Fortunately for us, these things don’t usually move backwards. You can’t suddenly decide that you no longer approve of gay marriage because you are too busy organizing the reception.
But we aren’t there yet. There was a sad pragmatism in many couples’ responses to the Proposition 8 decision.
“We only wanted to get married once,” Lisa Donohoe said. “We didn’t want to get married and have it be taken away. You only get one shot.”
“We’re really happy [about today’s decision], but there’s still a ways to go. But it’s a step in the right direction,” she went on.
When something seems so self-evident, the idea that you’d have to wait for it to go through appeals court is almost insulting. We’re used to instant gratification, and this is neither instant nor particularly gratifying. It seems obvious.
What took us this long? Why do we have to keep waiting?