What Marriage Means to LGBTQ Youth

I work with LGBTQ youth so, on the whole, I don’t hear a lot about marriage equality – at least, not at work. It’s not that marriage isn’t important to LGBTQ youth; it’s that marriage isn’t really a topic that’s important to teenagers. Getting a date for prom? Yes, that comes up (just came up today, actually). Being able to use the bathroom without being harassed? Yes, quite frequently. But, marriage? Not so much. It’s just not yet in their direct line of vision.

If marriage does come up, particularly marriage equality, most of the youth recognize that things are changing. There is a general understanding that things are changing – they are (thankfully) able to rest on the fact that, should they desire to marry someone of the same gender one day down the line, they will be able to do so without restrictions from the law.

One topic that does come up frequently, if not directly, is religion. When youth talk about religion,  it is often couched in a sentence like: “well, you know, they are religious, so they didn’t really want me around,” or: “you see, my family is really Christian, so they’re not ok with me being gay/trans/queer.”  In one of our weekly support groups last week, after hearing sentiments like this from several youth, I paused the discussion to ask if any of the youth have ever had a religious person unconditionally affirm their LGBTQ identity. The confused looks the youth gave me were answer enough. The silence that followed was deafening.

Just as many of the youth assume that they will one day be able to marry a person regardless of their gender identity, many of them still assume that Christians – especially straight Christians – who affirm the identities of LGBTQ people are a bit like Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street: though someone may assure them of their existence, most youth still believe them to be imaginary. Though the Church has come a long way with regard to acceptance of LGBTQ people, the experiences many LGBTQ youth have had in faith communities, particularly mainline Christian denomination communities, have been traumatic. I can count on one hand the number of youth I’ve met in the last year-and-a-half who’ve been part of a church that wholeheartedly affirmed their identity.

When I got news of 14-F passing on Tuesday night, I was in the middle of a group meeting. We were on a break and I stepped into my office to quickly check my phone and had texts from people delightfully sharing the news. I excitedly came out of my office and shared that my denomination had just ratified an amendment changing the definition of marriage. Again, I got confused looks – one youth asked if it had been changed to solidify that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” “No,” I said, “It’s been changed to define marriage as between two people! Just people! That means that folks all over the country – churchy folks – voted to recognize that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman.”

“Wow.” They replied. “That’s pretty cool.”

The passing of 14-F is a really big deal. And not just for people who want to marry someone regardless of gender. It’s a big deal because it is evidence of a large-scale movement toward a new understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ identities. It shows people who’ve been hurt by their experiences in the Church that not all churches are the same. It is a huge affirmation that there are Christians who are open to new understandings of how we can be in relationship; and, by extension, how we can live into being God’s beloved children.

I recently asked a couple of youth how they would feel if I became a pastor.

“Would that mean that you could marry people?” they asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it would.”

“Yeah. That’d be really cool.”

So, maybe they don’t talk about it much, but I like knowing that if they are thinking about it one day, their marriage could happen and would be recognized in a Presbyterian church.

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