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By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
In case you run into someone who still believes that gay marriage won't be an inevitability in this country in the near future, here's the one stat you need to remember — in 2003, about 1 in 3 Americans (32%) favored the idea of gay marriage, but in 2013, a short decade later, the number had risen to 53%. In analyzing the data, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute declared that the numbers showed a significant (almost unprecedented) shift towards tolerance across every religious, political, and age group and in every region of the country in a remarkably short time.
Most tellingly, the percentage of millennials — the second largest generation of Americans in history, after the baby boomers — who support same-sex marriage is now at 69%, according to PRRI's 2014 report. Even millennials who classify themselves as Republicans (including Tea Party and Evangelical Republicans) showed surprising support for the measure — nearly half, at 49%, as opposed to 19% of "senior" Republicans (age 65 and older.)
The stats for the millennials and gay marriage are the key ones, obviously, for this demographic will be the leading force in shaping public policy and cultural attitudes in the US for the next few decades. According to PRRI, 31% of millennials who leave their childhood religion do so because of one issue — intolerance or inflexibility with regards to LBGT Americans and their right to enter into marriage or civil unions.
What convinces me of the inevitability of gay marriage in America isn't necessarily the raw numbers of millennials who support the notion, but rather, their attitude toward that support. Previous generations of same-sex advocates, from Stonewall on, had to fight almost insurmountable amounts of bigotry and dehumanization and public disapproval and their battles were consequently tinged with an unmistakable righteousness and revolutionary fervor. Millennials today who support gay marriage seem to display a completely different tone — their attitude is more disdainful and irreverent toward their opponents.
This attitude was perfectly encapsulated in a popular internet photo that made the rounds a few years ago, a photo that (apparently) had been taken at a public demonstration. In the photo, a Westboro Baptist Church type is standing on a street corner, holding up two typically vile, homophobic signs. To the guy's left, about 6 feet away, a young millennial dude is holding up his own home made sign, too, a sign that says, simply, "F--- This Guy," with a big arrow pointing to the homophobe. (It should be noted that there is some debate if the photo is legit — people wonder if it had been photo shopped, and, as with any popular image on the internet, authenticity is always an issue. Still, the popularity of the picture on the internet and the number of times that it's been reproduced shows that it reflects a pretty common sentiment.)
It's a priceless photo, all right, and I think it's safe to say that once you've turned that particular corner — when a whole generation, in effect, is saying, "F--- This Guy," well, when you've reached that point I think it's a good bet that social evolution is inescapable. Righteous fury and indignation are certainly vital in any battle, but they don't hold a candle to the pure force of absolute derision and disgust for those you disagree with.
I have to say, though, that as much as I applaud this new shift in attitudes, and as much as I'd like to buy the "F--- This Guy" guy a beer for that indelible image, I'm a little uneasy about the way public discourse about this subject is conducted. There's just a little too much hectoring going on, a little too much universal shouting down. I recognize it's an impossibly divisive issue among some people, yet I still have a knee-jerk, negative reaction towards anyone who bulldozes and sledgehammers their way through arguments without at least attempting to listen.
I know lots of people who are against gay marriage and while I do indeed feel that they are on the wrong side of history and that I wholeheartedly disagree with them, I also know them; and I know that, in most cases, there's nothing remotely hateful or despicable about them, and I can't demonize them for uttering opinions in a country where uttering opinions is a celebrated national past time.
It's ironic to me, that one of the main reasons why gay marriage has suddenly become more acceptable is simply because people have discovered that they know somebody who is gay; knowing one person changes their impression of the entire gay population. I wonder if it's possible to apply the same thinking to people who are against gay marriage. Maybe you know somebody who is kind and decent and trustworthy but then you learn that they are against gay marriage, does that immediately eradicate what you feel for them? Maybe it does. For me, it just makes things more difficult, for every time I try to paint the world in black and white the world just keeps handing me buckets of grey.