Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gay Marriage And The Generational Gap

The following is an excerpt from a recent post on Fr. Geoff Farrel's blog about the Iowa Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage.

Immediately after the court ruled in Iowa, the republican minority leader in that state’s senate approached the democratic majority leader and asked him to co-sponsor a bill to take away full marriage equality from same gender couples. The senate majority leader Mike Gronstal responded as follows:

"One of my daughters was in the workplace one day, and her particular workplace at that moment in time, there were a whole bunch of conservative, older men. And those guys were talking about gay marriage. They were talking about discussions going on across the country.

Any way, my daughter Kate, after listening for about 20 minutes, said to them: You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care.

I think I learned something from my daughter that day, when she said that. And I've talked with other people about it and that's what I see, Senator McKinley. I see a bunch of people that merely want to profess their love for each other, and want state law to recognize that.

Is that so wrong? I don't think that's so wrong. As a matter of fact, last Friday night, I hugged my wife. You know I've been married for 37 years. I hugged my wife. I felt like our love was just a little more meaningful last Friday night because thousands of other Iowa citizens could hug each other and have the state recognize their love for each other.

No, Senator McKinley, I will not co-sponsor a leadership bill with you."

His daughter’s quote offers a chilling insight for the forces that wish to manipulate and control both individual lives and societies. You are receiving a richly deserved new status of becoming irrelevant. This is primarily what churchmen in America fear the most.


Fr. Geoff makes a serious point, when he says that those who want to use the state to enforce their ideas of sexual morality are becoming irrelevant. This is especially true in younger generations, who quite rightly see the gay marriage issue as one of love between two people, not sexual acts. They do not buy the argument that gay marriage effects straight marriage. I suspect this is true because these generations have actually been exposed to gay people, and gay people who are not self hating, but comfortable with themselves as gay people.

That's a huge advantage over my generation. Most of us raised in Catholic homes never heard the word gay or homosexual until we left home. Hearing anything about sexuality at home was a rare event, much less homosexuality. Growing up on a ranch I certainly knew a lot about sexuality, but we never discussed it in the house around my mother. In fact, we would use metaphors for sexual or pregnancy related issues. A pro lapsed uterus in a cow was never referred to by it's technical name, it was called a basketball case, due to the fact that's what a prolapsed uterus looked like. Bulls never had penis problems, they had Popsicle problems.

I suspect my mother went along with all of my dad's inventions because she thought it was funny. I can only remember one time homosexuality was referenced, and that was the time my dad had to admit he bought a gay bull. He kept this bull through two full breeding seasons in which the bull threw exactly two calves because my dad couldn't deal with this obvious fact. I guess he was hoping the bull would grow out of it or something. Neither my dad nor the bull grew out of it.

The younger generations have grown up with gay friends and openly gay relatives and to them it's not an issue, it just is. Just like bulls, they know people don't grow out of it. Unlike bulls though, people can choose to live in denial, or lie about it, or repress it, or lead guilt filled lives, or kill themselves. Those were the accepted strategies of the older generations referenced by Senator Mike Gronstal. Gays stayed in their assigned hidden closets. When that's what you're used to, it's what you think is the correct social strategy. That it's completely irrelevant to your children's generations is not easy to deal with because it implies your views are irrelevant and dated. From there it's easy to see yourself as irrelevant and outdated, and no one likes to feel irrelevant.

The truth is, the sexual moral issues that are so important to some in the older generations, are mostly irrelevant to the younger generations. To them sexual responsibility is becoming the moral issue. From these generations one hears more about parental responsibilities in men. They do not accept the 'love em and leave em' attitudes of earlier generations. As with homosexuality, they know a whole lot more about the ravages of divorce, because half of them have lived through one or more divorces. They know all about the problems of integrating families, and dealing with step brothers and sisters. It's not gay marriage they're concerned with, it's heterosexual marriage because failed straight marriages have impacted them.

Why would they care about two gays down the street marrying, when the divorce in their own family is what really impacted them? When I read the above quote about the older gentlemen in the place where the senator's daughter worked, I wondered how many of them were divorced. Odds say that half of them were divorced. It's a nice defense mechanism to blame gays for the breakdown in marriage. Takes all the pressure off from having to admit it might be straights and straight attitudes towards the sanctity of their own marriages which is the bigger problem.

It also serves to distract churches from dealing with the pastoral issues around straight marital break ups. I wonder how much more pastoral benefit would have been derived from taking all the money that California bishops spent on passing Prop 8 and instead putting that money into marital encounters and pre cana programs. But again, that would be putting money towards pastorally dealing with a problem and not state enforcement of a moral issue. Can't have that, there's no political power in that.

The religious right may becoming irrelevant, but they are not about to give up. Here's an email response from the Catholic league about the Vermont decision:

"Which state has less religious men and women than any other? Vermont.
Which is the only state to have a socialist senator? Vermont.
Which state has the second lowest birth rate in the nation? Vermont
Which state has the second highest proportion of whites? Vermont.
Which state legislature was the first to legalize gay marriage? Vermont.

In other words, Vermont is a lily-white state populated by left-wingers who are anti-traditional marriage and anti-family. Exactly what we would expect of a population where more people believe in nothing than anywhere else in the nation."

That about sums it up in a Christian charitable way. Vermont is a lily-white cesspool of socialist liberals who hate traditional marriage. Except Vermont's divorce rate, like most East coast states, is lower than the national average. Their divorce rate has dropped since it legalized civil unions in 2000. Apparently there is no evidence that civil unions impacted traditional marriage in Vermont. But what are facts in the face of fear.

Interestingly enough, the highest divorce rates in the country and the highest teen birth rates are amongst Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Christians. But again, what are facts when it comes to defending traditional marriage. According the the Family Research Council:
"Same-sex 'marriage' is a movement driven by wealthy homosexual activists and a liberal elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well.
I'd like to see FRC's 'researched' facts for this analysis, but something tells me I better not hold my breath. I suspect I might be told the facts are irrelevant. It is however, exactly this kind of statement which leaves the younger generations shaking their heads and deciding those who espouse this aren't relevant. On the gay marriage issue, the generational gap will be bridged by the older generations moving to the younger generation's point of view, as happened with Iowa Senator Mike Gronstal. It will not be bridged the other way around.
Here's a little synchronicity. Just as I posted this, an article pops up on clericalwhispers in which Tony Blair makes this very same point about the generational gap on attitudes towards gays. He also maintains there's a pretty substantial gap between Church authority and the average lay Catholic. So do I.


  1. You're precisely right Colleen! There is indeed a generational gap, a MAJOR one. I've always maintained that this was the main influence behind Pope John Paul and now Pope Benedict's interpretations on theology and idological questions regarding sexuality.

    Also, coming from my own personal experience, I can attest to this reality. I'm 19 and I came out about two years ago. When I revealed my sexuality to most of my friends they were extremely supportive, and I kept being pleasantly surprised at this outcome. I kept asking, "Do you care? Does it bother you?" And my straight male and female friends alike kept telling me an affirmative, "No..." Thus, I saw that coming out wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. And ever since then I've pretty much been comfortable with who I am, it seems most people just assume that I'm gay and have no problems with it.

    My mother, who was born in the late 40s, is sometimes astonished at how open my own generation is and how racial, sexual, or cultural divides don't really seem to make that much of an impact on interpersonal relations. At least not as much as they did during the Baby Boom years. But I hope this at least proves that my generation has learned from the many struggles for equality that have preceeded us; the racial civil rights movement, the gay rights movement (which is still ongoing of course with renewed impetus) and numerous other movements which proclaimed justice and equality which have now become fundamentals of American, civil society.

    The problem with the older, conservtive generation is that they seem to want to continue to think they know everything. Why can't they open themselves to new ideas, new ways of expression, new realties? Ultimately, I think it's what holds our current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, back from endorsing so many progressive and inclusive initiatives within the Church; FEAR.

    Well, I hope that with President Obama's election, my generation has shown that we have not ceceded to fear and that we will courageously proclaim and fight for a future century of hope and peace wrought with justice and equality for all!

    Thanks for noticing these especially important dynamics Colleen! Continue to have a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter!

  2. What I think Phillip is that your mother has raised a very insightful compassionate young man.

    My daughter would completely agree with what you have written. We were talking about this posting last night, and she said she can't figure out why a generation who did so much to change attitudes towards war, women's rights, and racism is still hung up on gays.

    In her opinion the 'boomers' ran out of gas. I told her that part of the running out of gas had to do with taking on the responsibility of raising the next generations. Raising families some times turns one inward. She bought that one, and then said, I guess the eco battle and the gay battle then will have to be our legacy.

    It looks to me like those battles are in good hands and this is one 'boomer' who supports you all the way.

  3. I'm a boomer who supports you as well Phillip.

  4. It frightens me.
    It's considered evil to be frightened by these kind of large scale social changes these days.
    But it does frighten me.

    I don't matter though.
    The world keeps turning. My feelings are irrelevant, I can retreat into isolation from the mainstream culture, or I can just watch powerlessly.

    It is very liberating to be powerless though I suppose. If I had any power at all I might try and get more through compromising on my principles. Powerlessness enables me to be completely steadfast.

    Y'all can have the world. I never wanted it anyway. Or, well, that's a lie, but I should never have wanted it. Eventually I'll be glad that you claimed it and transformed it into a reflection of yourselves. Otherwise it's beauty might have captured me.

    Still. It makes me sad. And I am still afraid. There are still so many things I am attached to.