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A win for the gay and lesbian community

The election this November was big for the gay and lesbian community. Not only did Maryland become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage via public ballot after thirty-two failed attempts, but we also saw victory in three other states: Maine and Washington endorsed a move to allow same-sex marriage, while Minnesota voters shot down a proposition to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.

I cannot describe to you the joy I felt watching these votes happen in real time. As numbers climbed in favor of same-sex marriage, my girlfriend (whose home state, incidentally, is Maryland) and I grew less and less able to keep smiles off our faces. And when Maryland was finally called, there was nothing in the world that could have lessened our exhilaration. Finally having numerical proof that a majority of the state you live in thinks that you, too, should have basic civil rights is really marvelous, especially when you’ve spent years seeing the opposite reflected in state constitutions nationwide.

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes how important this issue is to the people around them. It’s easy to live in a bubble and support “traditional marriage” on principle, but it’s not so easy to pop the bubble and take a look at the people affected by these laws. Take, for example, the thousands of kids who are struggling with their sexuality, not because homosexuality is inherently unhealthy, but because so much of society claims as much on outdated and misguided “evidence.” The more people who proclaim that gay people are, by virtue of their sexuality alone, mentally unsound or engaging in dangerous behaviors or living unhealthily, the more it affects gay youth.

There’s a reason suicide rates among LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) adolescents are so high, and it is not because being gay equates to being suicidal. It’s because they are blindly discriminated against and bullied by their teachers, classmates, and families. It’s because, by upholding the Defense of Marriage Act and amending constitutions to ban same-sex marriage and allowing businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, the government of the United States of America tells everyone who identifies as gay that they are not welcome here.

This was a part of my experience in middle school and high school. While I was lucky enough to go to a fairly liberal school, I was not lucky enough to avoid discrimination. I remember spending weeks and weeks arguing with myself over whether or not I could safely come out in school; when I finally did, I was met with confusion and offers of counseling, as if I had suddenly gone from straight-A teachers’ pet to delinquent. But I hadn’t done anything wrong; I hadn’t changed, and I was perfectly mentally sound.

What I needed was support. I needed someone to tell me that it didn’t matter who I loved as long as I treated them right; I needed a community that didn’t care one whit what my sexuality was as long as I was a good person.

What I’m trying to say is that this country needs to realize that gay citizens are just as healthy or unhealthy as straight citizens; the distinction is nearly irrelevant. Allowing two people who love each other to say so in a legally binding way will not in any way damage or even fundamentally change the “institution of marriage.” (You’d think that marriage as it is today is some perfectly holy and divine institution. I somehow doubt it, with current divorce rates averaging around 50 percent.) I don’t understand how someone can believe that short-lived opposite-sex celebrity marriages are somehow better or more worthy than the marriage of two people of the same sex who have been together for decades.

This election has given me hope, because it’s so indicative of the increase in public support for same-sex marriage. Decisions in Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, and Maine weren’t made by policymakers or in courts: they were made by voters. While it’s unsettling to think about my rights being put to a popular vote, I am relieved to see that the citizens of this country see me and this vast community as citizens as well, that the majority of people think my love is valid and legitimate. Because that’s what marriage is all about, isn’t it? Just love, pure and simple.

Pauline Varley ’15