Gay Marriage, Millennials, and Why Bill Kristol Is Dead Wrong
As a millennial, the thing I remember most from my childhood is Pokémon cards. Everyone had them, and in enormous supply. But that didn’t lessen the hype around the cards, with kids dedicating large sums of time, energy and cash to build that perfect deck. I even remember some kid got stabbed over a Charizard card when I was in elementary school. Few fads since have ever come close to equaling that level of fanaticism, but not for lack of trying to exploit my generation’s apparent susceptibility to groupthink.
But as millennials age and put the playing cards back in their protective sleeves, it would seem that that susceptibility to passing fads hasn’t lessened any—it’s only changed forms. Case in point: the ongoing gay marriage debate, in which millennials are kowtowing to their peers’ preferences for marriage equality over the bigotry and exceptionalism that’s been the standard for decades. Now, instead of trading Bulbasaurs for Jigglypuffs, we’re trading the sanctity of marriage for something lowly like egalitarianism. And all because it’s, you know, cool to do that now—just like with desegregation and women’s suffrage.
Bullshit, right? Exactly. So it probably shouldn’t come as any surprise that the most disconnected view of the week comes from Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. In a recent episode of the conservative rag’s podcast, Kristol got onto the topic of young people and gay marriage, saying that we as a country ought not “embrace the views of some 26-year-old who doesn’t know anything, honestly.” After all, forgetting things like freedom, equality and right and wrong, popular support on the issue adds up to little more than the fad we were discussing earlier. To that, he added “get off my lawn.” (Maybe.)
To be sure, we millennials absolutely support marriage equality, with a recent poll showing support as high as 70 percent among young people. That is far and away the highest number in favor of gay marriage generationally, with Baby Boomers (Kristol’s generation) topping out at 38 percent in support. So, really, it’s not a fad issue so much as a generational one. We were just raised with a different set of values, generally speaking, and now Kristol hates that the GOP is starting to see that they’ll have to play nice with their new constituency as the old one ages and dies off.
The notion here seems to be that we know-nothing 26-year-olds will, as we age, come to see gay marriage as a direct and tangible threat to our well-being. The fad will grow stale, support will dry up, and we’ll stop worrying whether or not our gay friend is seen as every bit as human as we are. And everything will be back as it should be: patriarchal, cruel, coarse.
Let me be the first to say that this is not the case. Generationally speaking, we’re the most informed, the most widely educated, the most connected, and the most communicative. All those factors added together kind of make it hard for bigotry to take root. We were raised with equality in mind, be it sexual, racial or otherwise, and our compassion—when coupled with the drive to actually change something—has garnered us our “Civic Generation” moniker. Essentially, it’s unlikely that millennials will “return” to an anti-gay marriage stance simply because it wasn’t really there in the first place. We just want to see our friends happy, not have them see us as cool.
But, besides that, there is no evidence to support that people become more conservative as they age, no matter how many times you wanna pull that Winston Churchill quote out. Values like equality are not likely to change as we age because they’ve already been deeply instilled, which is just about the exact opposite of what a fad is.
Even if Kristol’s right, somehow, and all this popular support for basic marriage equality is nothing more than a passing fad, the fad has already won. Just about everyone is expecting the Supreme Court to strike down the much-hated DOMA, leaving it up to individual states to rule on the gay marriage issue. Though, you’d assume that an issue reaching the Supreme Court ought to be a pretty good indicator that the discussion isn’t just going to go away once something cooler comes along. It’s not like we’re talking about Pokémon cards here.
But don’t take my word for it. I’m just some 26-year-old who doesn’t know anything. Honestly.