Most culture war battles are fought by middle-aged and old folks, except for those occasional outbursts when young people collectively presume to know jack squat about anything momentous. We saw it in the late '60s and early '70s, when youngsters came in polar opposite flavors -- Weathermen and SDS protesters, and those who felt like beating up the protesters. Middle-aged people were more mellow and less polarized.
That fell toward a minimum in the '80s, when young people weren't so ideologically polarized and didn't presume to have easy answers to big political questions. It was mostly fully grown adults arguing over Voodoo Economics, the Cold War, prayer in public school, and the like. This continued into the mid-'90s during the Gingrich revolution.
Over roughly the last 20 years, though, youngsters have started to get more uppity and more in each other's faces over big political issues, while the middle-aged and old folks are watching from the sidelines and aren't too polarized amongst themselves. Only now instead of the capitalist imperialist war machine, the big issue among today's loudmouths is sanctioning homosexual deviance by granting them access to the institution of marriage.
Just as during the Counter-cultural era, the popular mind only sees the shrill young people who are in the know-it-all / right-side-of-history camp. All the other young people who showed up to the protests only to harass the protesters, well, that isn't very exciting. And it spoils the picture of young people acting under a single common will.
Today, and perhaps as it will be recorded by history, only the shrill SJWs make it into popular recognition about "how young people feel about gay marriage." Most of the pushback against the SJWs is in fact coming from their peers, not grumpy old men. Older people are less divided, though less in favor overall of gay marriage, and so don't feel motivated to enter the fray. For Boomers and Silents, there's not much at stake for the purposes of signaling which broad ideological camp you belong to, since both camps don't disagree so much on this issue. Liberals and atheists from those older generations are not so gung-ho about gay marriage.
Since this may come as news, let's look into it using data from the General Social Survey. As always, only whites are studied in order to remove race as a confounding variable.
How does support for gay marriage differ by religious or political affiliation, across the generations?
Conservatives in almost all generations are only about 1-10% likely to say they "strongly agree" with gay marriage.
Yet there are dramatic differences in liberal responses across the generations. Among liberals born from 1945-1954, only 30% strongly agree. It's a little higher, at 38%, among liberals in the '55-'64 cohort, and about that high as well among libs in the '65-'74 cohort.
What about those who spent at least some of their formative years in the pro-homo '90s? Hold onto your butts. Libs in the '75-'84 cohort strongly agree at 54%, and those in the '85-'94 cohort at 59% -- a quantum leap from libs in the preceding generations. Normally the late X-ers line up with the early X-ers, and away from the Millennials, but here is one shameful example where we fit the Millennial pattern instead. Isn't being lumped with them instead of the early X-ers reason enough to reconsider your views, if you're a late X liberal?
Conservative Millennials are also more in support of gay marriage than conservatives from earlier generations, who again only strongly agree at around 5%, give or take. Strong agreement with gay marriage rises to just over 20% among Millennial conservatives. (Some conservatives.)
The point remains, though, that strong support for gay marriage varies much more widely by political affiliation among the late X and Millennial cohorts, primarily due to the skyrocketing support among liberals. Earlier cohorts show far less polarization on this topic by political ideology.
Without going through all the numbers, the same conclusion emerges when we look at support among varying degrees of religious fundamentalism. Comparing strong support for gay marriage between those who think the Bible is the literal word of God vs. those who think it's a book of fables, there isn't so wide of a gap within the Boomers or early X-ers.
However, within the late X and Millennial cohorts, strong support soars among the seculars, while remaining about as low among fundamentalists as it is among fundies in earlier generations, around 5% give or take. Here too, Millennials who ought to know better are too in-favor -- even the fundies among them strongly agree with gay marriage at 16%. Hope they don't mind burning in Hell.
Why is this culture war most polarizing and shrill among those who went through adolescence during the '90s and after? Well, that's when the whole gay issue became an issue. It was wholly absent from the battles over civil rights, youth liberation, sex liberation, feminism, and so on, circa 1970. I don't care if a couple of queers in some New York bar got into a tiff with the vice squad, I'm talking about widespread propaganda on behalf of homosexual deviance, making it seem as though the warped, perverted, and diseased are "just like us."
If your mind was impressionable during the '90s and after, and you had a liberal disposition, you took that crap and ran with it. If your disposition was conservative, it failed to resonate with you. This polarizes the generation coming of age during the period.
If your mind was no longer impressionable, it didn't matter if you were a raging liberal -- your pet topics hardened into shape back in the '60s and '70s when nobody questioned to categorization of homosexuality as a mental disease, let alone try to equate the abnormal with the normal. Blacks, women, students / young people -- these are not tiny groups of abnormal deviants, but large minorities of mentally normal people who had some legitimate grievances (and some other wacko grievances) with their treatment by the majority. Gay marriage just doesn't resonate with the big liberal causes of that earlier era, so the earlier generations are not so polarized by the issue.
The fact that it's liberals who have driven the polarization highlights how liberalism is a destabilizing force -- a feature, not a bug, in order to move society away from the always backward status quo and toward the always superior voyage toward unknown lands. (Hope it doesn't end up like it did in Alien).
And the fact that this culture war is primarily playing out among the children of the '70s, '80s, and '90s means that we shouldn't look too much to the older generations for support. It's not that older conservatives wouldn't agree with us, but that they just can't get that angry and militant about it because they don't see what all the hubbub is about. Their liberal peers aren't a bunch of gay butt-lickers, and don't hate their conservative guts for not supporting gay marriage. Older libs may try to score status points or signal good taste by siding with the queers, but they don't show the seething visceral hatred that the younger libs do for opponents of gay marriage.
Millennial conservatives ought to be the sidekicks, since too many of their so-called conservatives actually support the sanction of gay deviance. They are also less likely than other conservatives to judge homosexual sex as "always wrong" -- 55% among Millennial conservatives, but around 65% among Gen X conservatives, and nearly 75% among Boomer conservatives. (Though again, the older ones can't be counted on to mobilize on this topic, even if they're entirely in agreement.)
Only five years left until we see some serious shit in 2020 (more or less), if Peter Turchin's analysis of the rhythm of political instability is on the mark (with peaks every 50 years, the last being around 1970). It seems obvious what the main issues will be, but what has been less talked about is how concentrated the battles will be among the younger third of the population, for whom polarization is greatest.
The youth bias of the conflict will only exacerbate how destructive things can get. The actions won't be confined to gray-haired politicians zinging or shouting at each other in Congress, despite the media trying to hype up Obama's "sick burn" during his State of the Union speech. We're in for some real Molotov-cocktail-throwing times, I'm afraid.
GSS variables: marhomo, homosex, polviews, bible, cohort, race