We all know there’s a gap between how old folks and young folks feel about same-sex marriage. A new paper by the Columbia political scientists Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips, to be published in the American Political Science Review, indicates just how big that gap is. If people over 65 in each state made the laws, Lax and Phillips reveal, no states would have gay marriage. If people under 30 made the laws, 38 states would have gay marriage. This is a generational conflict, and in such battles the younger generation eventually wins.
The great question is whether the young people who support gay marriage now will come to oppose it when they’re 65. But there’s no reason to think opinion on gay marriage would follow the trajectory of opinion on subjects like drugs and abortion—where people tend to become more conservative as they age—and there are some reasons to expect it won’t.
For instance, Lax and Phillips have shown that young people now know lots of openly gay people, whereas old folks are much more likely to claim they don’t know any homosexuals. This indicates an association between knowing more gays and supporting gay unions, a relationship that suggests support for same-sex marriage could increase even as the young become old.