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Apr 18 / Jonathan

1968 is ancient history

So I was catching up on On the Media this morning, and heard this bit buried in a piece on the movement of public opinion toward approval of gay marriage.

… if we look back at interracial marriage, it was initially only at a 19 percent support level in 1968, one year after the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, had acted in this issue.

19%! 1968! That seems crazy to me (I was in college at the time); 1968 is only yesterday, isn’t it?

On the other hand, 41 years seemed like a lot longer back then; in 1968 that would have been 1927, which, of course, is ancient history, right?

It has been said of predicting technological progress that we tend to overestimate advances in the short term and underestimate them in the long. That seems right to me, and the cases seems somewhat similar. Year to year, change happens at a glacial pace. Yet glaciers do move.

Having written the above, I did a quick search on the subject of public attitude toward interracial marriage. Here’s what Gallup finds:

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Notice that there wasn’t even a plurality supporting interracial marriage until 1991 (now that is just yesterday).

I didn’t find such a concise presentation on same-sex marriage, and the data are harder to compare, since polls have been talking about both marriage and civil unions. But there’s a pretty good overview here. Two trends jump out at me. One is that opposition, especially strong opposition, to gay marriage is steadily dropping. The other is a dramatic age difference; one poll in 2008 found 69–22% opposition for gay marriage by respondents over 65, but 51–40% support by those 18–34.

In Anne Lamott’s words, “In a hundred years? — all new people!”

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