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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Familiarity breeds … acceptance. That’s why the battle for full equality for gays and lesbians is already won, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides.

A generation of young Americans has grown up with openly gay friends, neighbors and family members, teachers, preachers and entertainment idols. They know them in all their humanity: as responsible parents, as respectable business owners, as conscientious churchgoers, as liars, as cheaters, as drunks. For voters under 35, gay and lesbian Americans are no strange breed apart; they are simply people, just like heterosexuals.

As a college teacher, I’ve observed that casual affirmation of the full humanity of gays and lesbians. Even on a university campus in the Deep South, where many students hail from Republican families and hew to conservative religious beliefs, homosexual students are generally accepted as peers.

Among the cohort called “millennials” by the respected Pew Research Center — those are adults born since 1980 — support for same-sex marriage is at 70 percent. The same percentage of millennials believes gays and lesbians can be good parents, according to Pew. Even younger conservative Christians are less resistant to gay marriage than their parents and grandparents, polls show — with just 44 percent of them opposing those unions.

(Familiarity has also helped to change the views of some older Americans. Note the conversion of Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who now supports gay marriage. Portman recently announced that he had shifted from the opposing view after learning that his son, Will, is gay.)

As an adult who grew up when gays and lesbians were still shunned and shamed, I’ll admit to having been pleasantly surprised by the views of some of my students. One — a young woman who described herself as conservative — told me she is not troubled by the notion of gay marriage because “it doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

That principle ought to be a bedrock of conservative/libertarian philosophy, the underpinning of its suspicion of an intrusive government. But that’s not the way many older conservatives see it. They have fused their religious views with their political ideology, resulting in a curious and confusing philosophy that supports government intervention in the lives of people whose values they disagree with.