Opinion: Long-term meaning in Obama’s same-sex statement

Note: As part of our ongoing discussion of constitutional issues, Constitution Daily presents two takes on the long-term impact of President Barack Obama’s decision to support same-sex marriage.

In this opinion piece, Janson Wu, staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, examines the long-range impact on the LGBT community.

In a companion piece, author Glenn T. Stanton offers his take on President Obama’s changing stances on same-sex marriage and what he sees as the lack of long-term momentum behind the issue.

Like many individuals who realized they were gay at a young age, I could not envision a future being gay.

For a while, I thought it was a phase that would pass – like acne or 9th grade. When it did not, I forced myself to believe that I could live my life as straight, get married, have kids, and it would be okay.

I certainly never imagined that two decades later, I would be a staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), one of the premier legal organizations fighting discrimination against LGBT individuals and those living with HIV.

With President Barack Obama’s announcement this month of his support for allowing same-sex couples to marry, young people today will grow up in a new world – one where their highest leader affirms their self-worth and dignity as individuals and as part of a community. Thanks to his words, LGBT youth can better envision a healthy, happy, and productive future that can include marriage to the person that they love.

I don’t think it was an accident that President Obama referenced young people and his own daughters when explaining his “evolution” on marriage While some may criticize his focus on youth as crass politicking to an important demographic, they miss the long-term impact his words will have on LGBT youth as they grow into adults.

Not only have youth led his evolution, but overall progress on marriage equality and LGBT rights will pay forward with the next generation.

There is obviously much more work to be done. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains one of the only federal laws on the books that explicitly targets a group of individuals for discrimination.

GLAD has two cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, one of which was case decided at the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. (Editor’s note: On May 31st, that court overturned part of DOMA and said the U.S. Supreme Court should decide the case.)

The recent passage of a constitutional amendment in North Carolina prohibiting marriage rights for same-sex couples adds to the tally of 30 states that have inserted discrimination into their constitutions (compared to only six states and the District of Columbia that provide marriage rights to same-sex couples).

This November, three more states will defend against similar measures, and Maine, where GLAD is working closely with many other organizations, will decide for the first time an affirmative referendum to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

Moreover, the work to ensure a more hopeful future for our youth is unfinished, despite President Obama’s historic words.

LGBT youth are still attacked in schools, at home, and in the public sphere, with every hateful comment on the Internet about the worth of LGBT individuals. Yet, with at least half of Americans supporting marriage equality (almost double from 1996),  our country is moving in the right direction, largely thanks to young people who increasingly value their fellow citizens for who they are, including for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Imagine what America will look like when an entire generation of LGBT youth grow into adulthood – loved, secure, and affirmed for who they are, without exception

Janson Wu is a staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston. He is a graduate of both Harvard University and Harvard Law School and was named a 2011 “Best LGBT Lawyer Under 40” by the National LGBT Bar Association.