Tomorrow, the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act will be brought before the New Jersey State Senate for a vote. In the weeks prior, I’m sure we’ve all heard a multitude of reasons why marriage equality is the only answer to the civil unions problem – testimony from same-sex couples for whom civil unions proved tragically lacking, children of same-sex parents who told us that their families deserve the same recognition as all others, and legislators themselves who insisted that the “separate but equal” status of gay and lesbian couples created by the civil union is illegal.
But, as the date of the final vote in the Assembly swiftly approaches, little has been said as to how this decision would affect LGBT youth. Indeed, most young members of the LGBT community are unsure themselves about how they fit in to the marriage equality initiative. Young LGBT people are, by a vast majority, in support of marriage equality. Of that there is no doubt. But there has yet to emerge a specific angle on marriage unique to LGBT youth. In speaking with other members of the LGBT community my age, I’ve managed to discover some deeply personal reasons why LGBT youth supports marriage equality, reasons that are, in fact, specific and unique. Our position is important.
Although gay and lesbian youth aren’t going to marry any time soon, most plan to in the future. It is a dream for many young people to grow up, marry the person they love, and perhaps raise children with that person. And yet, that dream cannot be fulfilled in today’s New Jersey, if the person you love is of the same gender as you. For many LGBT youth, the worry that they cannot live a fulfilling, happy life is one that causes much despair. By refusing young people the opportunity to commit themselves to some one with whom they want to share the rest of their life, New Jersey would only encourage that fear and despair.
This decision does not only affect young peoples’ futures, it has an immediate effect on how they are treated by their peers. This can be easily demonstrated in regards to relationships formed by LGBT youth right now. If two young men start dating, their peers may insist that their relationship isn’t legitimate, because it cannot possibly end in marriage like straight relationships can. But the stigma goes beyond that, impacting teens not in relationships. By denying them marriage, New Jersey is imparting upon LGBT people the status of a second-class citizen. This opens the floodgates for discrimination, isolation, and bullying of young LGBT people. If the law treats LGBT youth as second class, then can’t we expect their peers to do the same?
The legislature has already made a commitment to protecting LGBT youth – as well as all other youth – from bullying. It must continue to preserve that commitment by passing marriage equality and protecting us, not only from harassment at the hands of other young people, but from the destruction of our dreams as well.