By the last round of interviews, in 2010, the hushed tones had diminished. And more interviewees reported having a gay friend or relative. “How do you have an increase in gay relatives?” he says. “People had become more open.”
Powell also believes that, ironically, social conservatives helped remove the taboo around discussion of gay rights: All the advocacy to protect traditional marriage kept the issue in public consciousness, he says, making discussion more routine.
The news media and the film and television industry have also been influential. Same-sex wedding announcements now appear regularly in newspapers. When Vice President Joe Biden revealed May 6 that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage – forcing Obama’s hand on the matter – he cited the influence of “Will & Grace.” The TV sitcom, which ran from 1998 to 2006, was about a straight woman and her gay best friend, but it did not involve gay marriage.
Still, “Will & Grace” paved the way for today’s “Modern Family,” the most popular show on TV, which includes a family headed by two men. Portrayals of gay relationships on TV are now so routine that the mainstream media almost yawn.
Among social conservative activists, the news media and entertainment world are a big part of the problem – especially when it comes to the most striking result in polls: the generational split among Evangelicals. A survey last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 44 percent of white evangelical Millennials – those between ages 18 and 29 – favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, compared with 19 percent of white Evangelicals overall.