The findings from the 31st year of the Kinder Houston Area Survey (1982-2012) will be released this month. The three-decade span of these annual studies offers a rare opportunity to determine the significance of the age differences revealed in the surveys.
When younger and older respondents give different answers in any one year, it is difficult to know if the discrepancies are due to real and lasting contrasts between older and younger perspectives – the generational divides that will shape the future – or whether they reflect instead differences that will fade as the younger folks move further along in their life-cycle trajectory. Were the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in 1992 expressing attitudes and beliefs that are closer to the views of today’s 40-year-olds? Or were they more similar to the 20-year-olds who were interviewed in this year’s study? The 30 years of Houston surveys can answer this question.
Younger adults in Houston have come of age in a city that is far more ethnically diverse and more supportive of gay rights than it was 20 years or 40 years ago. Have they internalized more tolerant views on these issues in ways that are likely to last into the future? The surveys strongly suggest that the answer is “yes.”
Half of the respondents born between 1971 and 1990, regardless of their age at the time of the surveys, said that homosexual marriages should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages. This was also true for almost half of those born between 1951 and 1970, but for only a third of the respondents born between 1931 and 1950, and just 16 percent of those born before 1930. Support for gay rights has been growing steadily across the years of the surveys, and the generational differences clearly suggest that the trend will continue into the future.
The survey found similar results for a question about whether more immigration would be desirable, which is equally encouraging. The polling numbers are consistent with what we see elsewhere in the country, and it’s good to know that it isn’t just a matter of young versus old but of one generation versus its ancestors. A change is gonna come, y’all. Which is why it was so important for the forces opposing that change to get the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment added to the state constitution back in 2005, even though gay marriage was already illegal in Texas. Repealing a law just takes a majority. Repealing a constitutional amendment takes a super-majority that may never materialize. As such, I strongly suspect the way that this change comes is via the federal courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court. (Yeah, I know it’s hard to feel optimistic about anything related to this Supreme Court, but change will come to them too, sooner or later.) How long that will take I don’t know, but some day we will all look back on this and wonder what the opponents of marriage equality were thinking.