What Progress Looks Like


Pew finds record support for marriage equality. Notice that support has increased in every generation over time, with a clear backlash moment in the first years of the new century. And notice too that the biggest recent increases have come from the older generations. Kincaid celebrates:

[W]hile the results are predictable (supporters are younger, educated, Democratic, liberal, and female), there are sizable portions of non-traditional supporters who now favor equality:

38% – men
35% – Southerners
34% – high-school or less
30% – African Americans
28% – age 65 or older
24% – Republicans
16% – “conservative” Republicans
14% – white Evangelicals who attend church weekly

While some of these numbers are small, they are the one which give me the most hope. If a quarter of all Republicans (and 1 in 7 conservative Republicans) support equality, then it can no longer be assumed that the party will hold together much longer in ideological opposition to decency.

These smaller percentages still influence the conversation at the senior center or the church potluck and challenge presumptions that might otherwise yield near unanimity of opposition to our rights among some demographics. And all of these categories show increases in support over the last year.

And I think there is an odd relationship between big losses in the courts or referendums and subsequent support. I have a feeling that the failure of the gay forces in Prop 8 and the images of crushed couples and disappointment may have led to a reaction of sympathy and a subsequent rise in support. The last year certainly seems to have been remarkable in the shift in favor.

In civil rights movements, it is often when majorities see minorities losing that their sense of fairness revives and their support for civil rights increases. But when such things are seen as being imposed too quickly, the opposite occurs. What matters is how these gains and setbacks influence public opinion over the long term. The answer to that seems pretty clear by now, barring some massive cultural panic.