Gay Marriage 2013: Who Are the 26% Of Young People Against Gay Marriage?

The gay rights movement reached a milestone in May 2012 when, for the first time, more than half of Americans 53% said same-sex marriage should be legal. The poll showed three major trends.

First, Republicans are over two and half times more likely to oppose gay marriage.  Second, those who attend church weekly are more than twice as likely to oppose gay marriage than those who do not. Third, millennials are almost three times more likely to support gay marriage than to oppose it, and almost twice as likely as seniors to favor it.  Some commenters attribute the rise in support for gay marriage and the recent electoral victories to millenials’ support for gay marriage.

This trend, though, does not include all millennials. Even as Republican leaders begin to support gay marriage, 26% of millennials oppose gay marriage, and they are fighting back.

They are members of the "pro-marriage movement." Several millennials lead political action groups involved in the movement. Moreover, they are changing the debate.  Instead of focusing on discussions of equality or love the two most common reasons for supporting same-sex marriage they focus on the definition of marriage, a common reason for opposing same-sex marriage. One advocate, 26-year-old William Haun of the Federalist Society, states "It’s really a broader defense of marriage and a stronger marriage culture." 

These young activists are concerned, they say, with the social ramifications of redefining marriage. The Manhattan Declaration, whose executive director is Eric Teetsel, 29, claims that "Marriage is the first institution of human society indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation." Teetsel's organization goes on to argue that redefining marriage will leave children and the community "damaged" and "crippled." Ryan Anderson, 31, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame and fellow at the Heritage Foundation, spoke to the impact of marriage equality on marriage. The concern, he says, is that redefining marriage would allow "the three other norms — which are monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanency — [to] become optional." By opposing gay marriage, they intend to oppose the destruction of the institution and society.

Many of these youths’ organizations are also tied strongly to religion.  The Manhattan Declaration is a self-described "a movement of Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians for life, marriage, and religious liberty." Cornerstone Policy Research and Cornerstone Action, led by Ashley Pratte, 23, states in its mission that "We believe the origins of our culture were purposely rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition." The Family Policy Institute of Washington, directed by Joseph Backholdm, 34, "work[s] to impart a biblical worldview for those committed to Judeo-Christian truths." The connection between religion and opposition to same-sex marriage is unsurprising. Nearly half of those opposed to gay marriage cite religion as the reason. While not all opponents necessarily ground their disagreement in religious foundations, these millennials connect their policy with their religious conviction.

They also argue that the issue was improperly branded and that the "pro-marriage movement" must reframe it. Instead of focusing, as the pro-gay marriage movement does, on equality, happiness, and rights, they focus on tradition. Pratte argues that young Republicans are "jumping ship" because the movement has ineffectively packaged itself. It should focus on stimulating a healthy discussion and promoting traditional social values, not "tell[ing] your friends when you’re out with them on a Friday night that they can’t get married." Backholm acknowledged the "intense social pressure" millennials feel to favor gay rights and the problem it represents for the movement: "To the extent that the other side is able to frame this as a vote for gay people to be happy, it will be challenging for us." They believe, though, that once young voters (especially young conservatives) are presented with this movement, they will return.

This issue is particularly important now, as Supreme Court considers California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, a battle activists fear they will lose. Some take a long view and argue that, as with abortion, the opposition will flourish despite of or because of the Court. Others recognize they might be fighting a losing battle, but honor-bound to continue. Says Teetsel, "Even if we are doomed, and I’m totally naïve, I think it’s important that I do this work anyway. If what I believe is true is true, then I’ve got a responsibility to be on its side for as long as I can be."

Only time will tell if their movement will grow, as some suggest, or flounders in the rising tide of public opinion.

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