At This Historic
Moment, Remember LGBT Youth

When oral arguments begin on two landmark marriage equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court today, the entire country will be watching.

Political journalists will focus on what the cases mean for the two major parties — locked, as they always are, in bitter partisan battles on issues from gun control to the budget. Legal scholars will document every question, nod, and blink by the nine justices to try to gain any insight into what they might be thinking. Supporters of marriage equality, its remaining opponents, and more than a few curious onlookers will gather outside the Court. Newspaper editorial boards in big cities and small towns will weigh in. And cable news will feature round-the-clock coverage, poll numbers and interviews with everyday Americans.

But at a moment when everyone wants to make their voice heard, we can’t lose sight of those who are still silent: the gay and lesbian young people who still face rejection in their schools, their churches, even around their own dinner table. Some are out, some are still in the closet. All of them will at some point sit in a social studies classroom and listen to the teacher tell them that the Constitution promises equality for all. Yet for those young people, it’s a promise that this country doesn’t keep.

I remember what it was like to grow up gay in a small town in Arkansas. My family was Baptist, and in towns like the one I lived in, the three centers of your life were your home, your school and your church. No matter who you are, the prospect of rejection in any one of those places makes for a difficult existence.

As we approach this decisive moment for equality, all I can think about is the young lesbian I met when I went home to Arkansas on my first trip as president of the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. Even in 2013, so many tell that young woman that she’s less than equal, broken, even a sinner for simply embracing who she is — how she was born. To her, the promises of our Constitution don’t mean all that much. Her very citizenship is undermined by the discrimination she faces every day.

Let’s make this historic moment about turning a corner for that young person.

When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last week that she supports marriage equality because denying happiness to “any of our daughters and sons solely on the basis of who they are and who they love is to deny them the chance to live up to their own God-given potential,” she was standing up for that young person and others like her.

When Republican Senator Rob Portman embraced marriage equality out of love for his gay son and as a tenet of his abiding faith, he sent a message to parents in towns like the one I grew up in. Putting family first, Senator Portman spoke plainly as “a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love.”

And when President Obama and his administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to strike down California’s Proposition 8, he reached out a hand to that young person and told her to hold on to hope, because this country and its government are fighting for her.

So this week, when the nine members of the Supreme Court take their seats at the front of that courtroom, we should take our obligations as citizens as seriously as the justices take theirs. What we say and do as a country over the coming days and beyond will have broad, public implications, but it will also have an individual impact on every gay and lesbian young person — no matter how many miles away they are from that grand marble chamber.

We’re at one of those turning point moments that have defined America since its founding. Let’s send a clear message that this country has a place for everyone — yes, including that young woman in Arkansas still hoping for an equal future.

Author Chad Griffin is President of the Human Rights Campaign.

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