All analyses of the politics of the fight for same-sex marriage put one fact at the center: It is young people's overwhelming support for the right of two people of the same sex to full legal recognition of their love for each other that assures the ultimate success of that cause.
In fact, I can think of no issue since the Vietnam War where the political community has been so aware, and for reasons of self-interest, so respectful, of the distinct point of view of voters in their 20’s.
As a 73-year-old married gay man, I am grateful. As a politician, although no longer a gainfully employed one, I am both very interested and cautiously optimistic about the reasons why millennials have been making themselves strongly and beneficially felt in this way.
First, young voters' support for treating LGBT people equally demonstrates the validity of an important principle: Reality will defeat prejudice in a fair fight. People in their 20’s are the first Americans to grow up in a world in which most of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people stopped hiding. They are the first generation to get to know their brothers, sisters, cousins, teammates, customers, doctors, plumbers, teachers, students, etc. as real live human beings, not as caricatures, stereotypes, or closet cases.
Some give credit for the rapid diminution of anti-LGBT sentiment among younger people to gay people's growing presence in TV and other media. I believe that it is our omnipresence in society as real people that is more important, but these are complementary, not competing factors. The result is that people in their 20’s can think of no good reason to treat people they have come to know, respect, admire, and even love as second class citizens.
Next, young people not only can think of no good reason for the prejudice, they strongly resent the bad reasons offered to defend it. Happily, millennials are to a great extent intolerant of intolerance. This is why they are altering politicians’ behavior. It is one thing for an elected official to know that many constituents disagree with his/her position. It is very much another when they not only disagree, but profoundly disrespect your view.
Fortunately, a strong aversion to hypocrisy is more common among young people than among some of their elders, who have had to engage in it for career or other reasons over the course of their lives. For millennials, that anger at hypocrisy is even more fierce, because it is not just an associate or colleague, but our entire country that is engaging it.
When our nation proudly proclaims ourselves as the global bastion of respect for universal human dignity and then denies that dignity to millions of its own residents, young people not yet acclimated to deep moral compromise are ready to sharply reject the unfairness.
I am doubly optimistic about the role millennials are playing in this current battle for equal rights. They are the single biggest reason that I am confident that LGBT people will win our full rights. And I believe as well that millennials will carry on their willingness to reject prejudice in the face of contrary reality as they get older and continue their strong negative reaction to people’s stating one set of ideals and then making a mockery of them. Our entire society will benefit.