November 11, 2006

We Still Have to Change Some Minds on Gay Marriage

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:04 pm

It was great to see the Arizona voters reject an initiative that would ban gay marriage. Unfortunately, seven other states approved similar initiatives.

I’ve long been optimistic regarding the legalization of gay marriage within the next decade or so, mainly for demographic reasons. Younger voters have much less of a problem with gay marriage than older voters. Since the exit poll data is available online, I figured this was a chance to test my theory. For the Arizona, Virginia and Wisconsin gay marriage ban propositions, here are the percentage voting yes for the four age bands provided in the exit polling data (they also have data on Tennessee’s ban initiative, but for some reason it isn’t broken out into these four age bands.)

gay marriage bans exit polling by ageIn each of these three states, voters under 30 are more open to gay marriage than voters over 60. There is a 15% drop in the percentage approving a gay marriage ban between those over 60 and under 30 in Arizona, an 11% drop in Virginia, and an astounding 27% drop in Wisconsin. (As an aside, it’s interesting that voters that came of age during the 60s and 70s had a lower percentage voting for the bans in every state than voters that came of age in the 80s and early 90s. My generation really is more tolerant and open-minded than the generation immediately following us.)

Given this generational shift in attitudes towards gay marriage, I’ve been thinking that we could just wait it out, since between elections some of the over 60 voters will have died, thereby becoming ineligible to vote (except in Chicago), and will have been replaced by new, younger voters. I did a quck back of the napkin calculation to see how rapidly the Wisconsin election results might change, assuming that on average voters stop voting at 75, new voters vote in the same proportions as the under 30 voters did in this election, and everyone else stays the same.

Unfortunately, this demographic shift only makes half a percentage point difference in the vote totals per year. This means that we would have to wait about 18 years for Wisconsin to move from 59% to 49.9% in favor of the gay marriage ban.

I can’t wait that long. And since a majority of under 30 voters in Virginia voted for the ban, they’ll never approve gay marriage at this rate.

So we can’t just sit back and let demography be our destiny. We have to change people’s minds about gay marriage now instead of letting nature take its course. We don’t have enough time to wait.

1 Comment

  1. i find it interesting to contemplate the reasons why social movements succeed or fail. i don’t think broad-based public support is necessarily a prerequisite. although i’m no student of history, i would guess that the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement of the 50’s/60’s, to give two examples, were not strongly supported by a great percentage of the population at those times. what they probably did have was a fairly narrow but very strong and relentless base of support that was willing to take their fight to the streets (and, when possible, to the halls of power, e.g. JFK & LBJ).

    i see gay marriage getting a fair amount of air time in this country, but i don’t necessarily see a strong grass-roots movement behind it yet (that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; i may very well just not be aware of it). i guess what i’m saying is it will take more than ballot initiatives to make this happen. it will take an active campaign to put the issue before people, to frame it as a civil rights-type issue (which i believe it is).

    this theory may be a little out there, but i’m wondering if it’s possible that the gay community is too comfortable. after all, as much homophobia as there exists in this country, it doesn’t seem (at least on the surface) like gays have it as bad as women did in the early part of the 20th century, or blacks in, well, most of the 20th century. but that’s obviously a very broad assessment.

    Comment by Eric — November 14, 2006 @ 8:07 am

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