Generation Y More Open Minded To Gay Marriage

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In the five years he's lectured on same-sex marriage, Michael Ryan has detected a trend.

After each lecture, a handful of students tell him the class forced them to rethink their position on the issue. And in many cases, he said, those students go on to say they now support marriage equality.

"I would love to take credit for that," said Ryan, who is gay and gives guest lectures regularly on same-sex marriage at the University of Maryland and elsewhere. "But it really belongs to the information itself, not my presentation of it."

The apparent growing acceptance of same-sex marriage among young adults is reflected in a new Pew Research Center study.

According to the study released last week, an estimated 47 percent of adults ages 18-25 support allowing gays and lesbians to marry. By comparison, an estimated 30 percent of adults age 26 and older back marriage equality.

The findings were based on exit polls, past Pew polls, and a new survey of 1,501 adults, including 579 people ages 18-25. The study had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 5 percentage points for the young adults, often referred to as Generation Y or Generation Next. There's no consensus about the birth years that encompass this group, but it's casually thought of as the group that comes after Generation X, those born between 1963 and 1978.

Equality Maryland Executive Director Dan Furmansky said the results weren't surprising.

"It makes sense that those who are least supportive of same-sex relationships grew up in a time when LGBT people were literally invisible," he said.

"We as a community are free to be who we are in ways we never could before, and mass media no longer pretends we don't exist. Because of this, younger generations know that our blood is as red as theirs."

Ryan said the students who are swayed by his lectures often are those who have given little thought to the issue.

"Many people simply have not spent any time thinking about the issue critically," he said, "and have instead defaulted to what their parents, the media, the president or their religion dictates."

Once these students gain a better understanding of the issue, he said, many change their opinion.

"It is not about changing social institutions, or even marriage per se," Ryan said. "It is, simply put, about equality."

Some University of Maryland students generally agreed that there is greater acceptance now of same-sex marriage, but added they continue to hear anti-gay remarks from their peers.

Joseph Cutler, a sophomore at the school's College Park campus, said he recently talked with someone who blithely called a colorful cigarette brand "gay."

"It blew my mind," he said.

Natalie Prizel, a College Park senior, said she was disappointed that such attitudes precluded the Pew study from finding wider acceptance of same-sex marriage.

"I've always lived in a relatively progressive, urban and overwhelmingly blue area, so I know my friends are not representative of the nation as a whole," she said, "but I would have expected and hoped for more support."

Prizel, a lesbian who is planning to wed her partner next year, said she hopes her relationship will one day be afforded the same rights that straight couples enjoy.

"I've always wanted to get married, and I resent people who may not even know any same-sex couples making decisions that affect our lives on such a basic and profound level," she said. "I believe this is a civil rights issue."

Political impact?

Although the study showed Generation Next to be more progressive on gay issues, it's unclear whether those attitudes will ever reach the voting booth.

The study found that young adults are less inclined to vote than older generations, despite young voter turnout rising significantly in 2004. About 54 percent of people age 18-24 voted in 2004, and 74 percent of those 25 and older voted.

Pew researcher Scott Keeter said Generation Next could reshape the national discussion of same-sex marriage - but only if they get involved.

"This portends a significant political impact as they get more engaged," he said. "If they carry their party leanings with them, that will make a big difference."

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