11/07/2012 08:22 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

What It Means for Voters to Have Our Backs

I never expected progress to happen this fast.

Prior to this year's Election Day, 32 states had voted on marriage definitions, and all 32 had voted to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions. With three states -- Maine, Maryland, and Washington -- voting on marriage equality and a fourth -- Minnesota -- voting on whether to write its existing same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution, I was hopeful that one, maybe two, states would favor equality. After all, this seemed like a good year for the trend at the ballot box to change, with record numbers of Americans supporting same-sex marriage and an endorsement from the president.

Still, I didn't expect all three states to affirm marriage equality, and the fourth to refuse to engrain heterosexism into its constitution.

I deeply appreciate the voters in these four states standing up for what is right. It is nice to know that, were I living in the states that affirmed marriage equality, I would have the same rights as everybody else. It is great to see that my queer friends who live in these states, including many in Washington, where I went to college, will be treated as first-class citizens under the law. Most importantly, young LGBTQ Americans -- especially those experiencing harassment at school or home, or struggling in the closet in a homophobic community -- can see that voters had their backs. They can see that there are people -- a majority of people -- who believe that LGBTQ people should have equal rights under the law, that they should be able to find love, and that they should have that love recognized in the same way that other love is. In spite of the progress we've made toward LGBTQ equality in the last decade, there is still an astoundingly high rate of depression and suicide among LGBTQ teens; I sincerely hope that at least one kid will see what these states have done and realize that their life is worth living.

I've never been a fan of letting voters decide civil rights issues and, despite the four for four record on Tuesday, still am not. The idea that a majority population gets to choose whether a historically oppressed minority population has rights rubs me the wrong way. The brutal campaigns can also be harmful to queer folks. Yet I have to admit that having marriage equality passed by voters makes it all the more powerful: its legality stems not from a single visionary judge, nor a group of progressive legislators, but the population as a whole. It sends the message that society is moving forward and that a majority of people believe that sexual orientation should not be a basis for discrimination.

With this bout of good news, I am even more hopeful than before about what the next few years hold in store. Even if the Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8 (an unlikely prospect, in my opinion), I now think that California voters would follow the lead of Maine, Maryland, and Washington. I am optimistic that Oregon, where I grew up, might emulate its neighbor to the north. States such as Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, and New Jersey are on my radar as places where voters or legislatures might also affirm equality. Even better, the Supreme Court could overturn the Defense of Marriage Act in a way that leads to national recognition of same-sex marriages.
Of course, marriage equality isn't everything, but there is a tendency to overemphasize this single LGBTQ rights issue--one that affects only those LGBTQ people who want to get married -- over others. It is still legal to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation in 29 states, and it's also legal to deny people housing based on their sexual orientation in 29 states. In many ways, these are more pressing issues than marriage. I hope that the expansion of marriage equality will not only motivate other states to follow suit, but also push states or, better yet, Congress, to protect all LGBTQ citizens.

Still, for the moment being, I'm thrilled, knowing that momentum is now on our side in such a strong way that not even the National Organization for Marriage will be able to spin their way out of it. I'm excited that there are three more states where same-sex couples can get married. I'm happy that voters sent a message of affirmation to all the LGBTQ people who were watching.
Then it all comes back to the weddings themselves. I'd love to return to my quaint college town of Walla Walla, Washington to see one of my queer friends get married, relieved that the law finally regards my friends as the full citizens that they are.