Much of the discussion around marriage equality has focused primarily on issues like “fairness,” “equality,” and “civil rights,” and the fact that the right to get married is just that — a right. As Rachel Maddow once brilliantly said, “we don’t get to vote on them. That’s why they’re called rights.”

There’s more to the story, though. We get so fixated on the adults who want to get married — some of whom have been together for a lifetime — that we lose sight of the coming generation, and the fact that they desperately need the hope of normality and celebration.

We already know that marriage equality laws benefit the overall health of gays in states that have such laws. We also know that bullying has a direct correlation to gay youth suicide.

While we do have certain facts that show the benefits to society of having gay marriage, we can — and must — look to the younger set to see why it’s critical that there be viable options for them.

Usually, I let my writing focus on undeniable facts, and then base my opinions on them. This post is more conjecture and speculation, but it’s also anecdotal and based on my own experience. As such, I can say that I think that I’m right about these issues, and I have yet to see any studies that tell me otherwise. While I may not be authoritative at the moment, I would hope that what I’m about to share will have at least some credibility.

I have been out of the closet now for almost 7 years. It’s easy for us as gay adults to take the “coming out” process for granted, but the fact that I came out so late in life, I can share a few things about the nature of that process.

First, and most importantly, the coming out process is a process of self-identification and self-awareness. Before anyone can even think of coming out of the closet, they must first come to a place where they can look at themselves in the mirror.

Imagine yourself as a 14 or 15 year-old gay teen that’s beginning to really recognize that he or she is not like their peers. They know their friends are all starting to date, get those first kisses, or hold hands in the school hallways. It’s here that the struggling teen will begin to realize not only that they’re different, but that it might be a bad thing.

During this coming-to-terms and coming out process, everything — and I do mean everything — in their life if turned inwardly. It’s not your usual teen angst, either. For the introvert, it’s even more so. They might put on a happy face every day, but inside, they’re at war.

Sooner or later — inevitably — their peers begin to pick up on the awkwardness and identify it as a weakness. Some, thankfully, will become the best of friends, but others will use it as an excuse to attack and make themselves feel superior. Suddenly, the internal war has just turned into a nuclear wasteland.

Add to this whole mess the poison darts from religious people and pastors who will offer such nonsensical platitudes like, “we don’t approve of your behavior” or “the Bible is very clear on this issue” or the worst of all: “change is possible.” Just in case there’s any question: Sexual orientation is not behavior. The Bible is not very clear on this issue, and the chances of a person actually changing their sexual orientation is so infinitesimally small, it’s horrific just how many organizations are built around this false, deceptive “hope” of change.

While everyone around the gay or struggling young person is busy deciding just how wrong it is to be gay, the one person who is left to deal with it head on — has very few real advocates. They don’t want to hear a parent say, “I love you anyway.” They want to hear, “I love you. Period.” They don’t want to hear a friend say, “I’ll still be your friend even if you’re gay.” They need to hear, “I’m your friend.” No qualifiers. No disclaimers. Just real, genuine, love.

Yes, there’s plenty of input from the media and entertainment. But none of this really matters to the person who has to look themselves in the mirror every day. When they see that warm, heartfelt kiss between the gay couple on TV, they’re not saying, “that’s so great.” They’re saying to themselves, “I’ll never have that.”

We eventually get beyond this struggle, but it takes time. The raw emotion of the process will (and should) emerge into the inner strength of confidence, but it’s not an easy growth. During that struggle, everything is about them, and their sexual identity. It’s not a bad thing. It just is. Which is why they MUST have real, genuine support.

In the thirty-plus states that have outright bans on gay marriage, these gay teens and young adults have few options in their relationships — and they know it. They hear the negativity, the shrilling, the hate, and the bullying. Every. Single. Day. Is it any wonder why gay teens have high suicide rates? Oh, and do spare me the “they’re just unstable” garbage. After all, who can be stable in a society that offers no stability? Who can truly ever hope to celebrate love when their government denies them the hope of building a life together?

The time has come for us to realize that love between two consensual adult men or two adult women isn’t up to our approval. That they love each other and want to build their lives together has absolutely nothing to do with the marriage next door, the church on the corner, or the bigot with the hateful picket signs. They deserve the equal rights of sharing in the celebration of love, and the responsibility of marriage.

And our teens deserve the hope that it really does get better — and they can look to have the pitter-patter of romance, and the dullard daily rote of the every day life, regardless of whom they eventually marry.

Marriage equality is very much a hot political potato, but the fact remains that lives are at stake.

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