Persuasion and the Gay-Marriage Generation Gap

How often are parents persuaded to change their mind on the issue by their children?

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Writing in Forbes, Josh Barro posits that over the last eight years, the way gay marriage is discussed among elites has changed, causing GOP politicians to talk about the issue less often:

Among upscale people in New York and Washington, opposition to gay marriage is now impolite. And expressing opposition in such a setting is exhausting.

I'm not talking about "the Georgetown cocktail party circuit." I'm talking about Republicans politicians' own wives and children, their young staffers, and even in a lot of cases, their donors. How many Republican members of Congress have children like Meghan McCain, who are reproaching them at home when they go out and talk about how terrible gay marriage is?

I bet it's a lot.

This seems anecdotally true to me. Among the conservative and Catholic families I was surrounded by growing up in Orange County, California, there's a solid majority where parents and their now adult kids have very different opinions about the rise of gay marriage in America. And it's one of the political disagreements that tends to come up at the kitchen dinner table. That isn't to say my impressions prove anything. But given the polling data we've seen showing a generational difference in support for gay marriage, it would be fascinating to see a study about whether having children makes older people more or less likely to change their minds about same sex marriage, or more or less likely to shift the degree of their opposition to it.

There are a lot of abstract arguments for and against on this issue. In my offline life, I've found older adults, and especially family members who love me (and are aware of my impending nuptials), are far more likely to be swayed by the pointed question, "If I was gay, wouldn't you still want me to be able to get married and share my life with someone I love, and who loves me?"

Dick Cheney wants that for his daughter. And if Meghan McCain was a lesbian I'll bet John McCain's position would be different. Some people -- mostly orthodox religious believers -- just aren't going to change their mind about gay marriage. They want to return to a biblical vision of marriage. But most opponents of same sex marriage aren't attached to marriage as it's defined in the bible. Neither their faith nor any deeply held principle demands that they oppose the practice. For those people, having children who take the opposite position, or have a close friend who is gay, or fairly or unfairly think that opposition to same sex marriage is bigoted, can matter a lot.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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