Freedom to Marry recently launched its new initiative, "Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry," which aims to bring younger conservatives to the forefront of the same-sex marriage debate, but many conservative groups are upset that support for same-sex marriage would be made under the veil of conservatism.
Conservative groups including the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council have all come out against Freedom to Marry's new campaign, insisting that while Freedom to Marry might talk of supporting conservative principals, in practice they fall woefully short.
"It is absurd to claim that redefining marriage is a conservative value and especially once you get into the practical political alignment … marriage is a core conservative value. So for Freedom to Marry to try to create a group of conservatives for redefining marriage shows you how much they understand about conservatism," Thomas Peters, Cultural Director at the National Organization for Marriage, told The Christian Post during a phone interview.
During the current debate regarding same-sex marriage, arguments concerning advocating for same-sex marriage have been called into question in an effort to highlight the real goal of various groups who state that they are campaigning for marriage equality.
"To say we're fighting about same sex marriage – as if there were such a thing – gives into the premise that two men or two women can be married. That's simply not possible," Jennifer Morse, of the Ruth Institute, previously told CP.
"People who are attracted to someone of the same sex and advocate for some type of 'marriage' are not seeking marriage 'equity,' they want to redefine marriage," she added.
But Freedom to Marry insists that it is not solely focused on putting forth the idea that same-sex marriage is understood only by the union of two people. Instead, they feel the underlying principal of marriage boils down to the principal of individual freedom.
"The individual and the family are the central engines in our society. The right for individuals to lead their lives without government intrusion is a bedrock conservative principle … it is much more than just about sexual orientation … It is about equality for all with no exceptions," said Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill seeking to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
Still, proponents of traditional marriage contend that the institution of marriage is still first and foremost a union blessed by God, which should be respected as such. The new perspective on same-sex marriage and the acutely observed new portrayal of conservatism are values that contradict what most Christian conservatives stand for.
"It could even mean that two people, regardless of their sexual orientation, may want to 'marry' for the sake of convenience or to receive government benefits or the like. That is not what God intended for marriage," Morse said.
Critics agree the current debate is divided mainly generationally, with support among younger Americans in promoting same-sex marriage growing as society in general becomes increasingly secular. But while polls suggest that some young conservatives are supporting same-sex marriage, there is a concerted effort to draw them out.
Margaret Hoover, author of "American Individualism: How A New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party" and member of the leadership committee for Freedom to Marry explained why they were seeking young conservatives.
"I do think there is a new generation of conservatives that aren't as socially conservatives on the issue of gay rights as conservatives before, but we still consider ourselves conservatives because … there are many conservative dispositions on many issues related to domestic and foreign policy … and I think there are enough of us that it is import to formalize that position more broadly so that other people can hear what we have to say," Hoover told CP.
"'Conservative' has not only referred to social issues, its referred to economic philosophies and it also refers to foreign policy, so the adjective 'conservative' can define for many different people many different things … but is not just about social values," she claimed.
Poll data released by the Pew Research Forum on Religion & Public Life highlighted the shift away from the traditional notion of conservative values among younger individuals. From 2003 to 2010 support for same-sex marriage among millennials- the generation with the highest support percentage wise- increased 2 percent, while both Republicans and Democrats showed increased support for same-sex marriage during that same time period, adding 5 and 8 percentage points respectively.
But Peters explains there are more people who are not being heard from who could offer some differing opinions when it comes to the long-standing place that traditional marriage has held in society.
"There is a segment of America that we are not hearing from, the 10 to 12 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 who tell pollsters that they do support the traditional idea of marriage. These are voices that we haven't heard from yet," he acknowledged.
In 1996 only 26 percent of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 approved of same-sex marriage, but over the past 16 years attitudes concerning marriage equality have altered, with polls showing 38 percent of those Americans now supporting same-sex marriage.
As generations pass so do attitudes and perspectives, Hoover argues that there are both young and old who consider themselves conservative, although the latter might hold different feelings towards certain social issues than the generation that followed.
"We are focusing on conservatives as a whole and I think the movement is focusing on conservatives as a whole … the impetus to having young conservatives for marriage is to highlight the distinction that this is a generational issue … there are young people who call themselves conservatives who are in favor of gay rights … this is essentially an argument for individual freedom which is consistent with conservatism and even older conservatives can see the logic in the argument."
And that is the largest variable, changing attitudes and perspectives do not just occur cross-generationally, but attitudes can also change from within a generation during the course of a lifetime leaving to wonder what the societal landscape will look like in 40 to 50 years.
"Young people's minds change all the time, if you ask a group of 100 18-year-olds a question about sexuality and marriage and then ask that same group when they are 45 or 50 what they think about sexuality and marriage they would give you very different answers," Peters explained.
Those answers seem to be what everyone is after. Predicting changes in the social fabric can be an unpredictable task, but looking back at history, one may be able to develop a sense of where social discourse is headed.