Gay rights activists are ejected from the House chambers at the state capitol… (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago…)
I recently was back South to celebrate both my sister's engagement and my mom's birthday. My family decided we'd meet up in Atlanta, and planned to spend the weekend catching up and helping my sister prep for her wedding.
When I arrived, I was surprised to find out the weekend was going to be FULL of wedding talk, because my brother proposed to his girlfriend while we were all together. I will spare you the mushy details, but he did the whole one-knee thing and everyone clapped. I stood next to my mother—who cried, of course.
When the newly engaged couple kissed in celebration, my mom leaned over, rubbed my back and said, "You're next." I laughed and replied, "Only in 13 states!" She didn't find that funny. I found it hilarious, but as my laughs stopped I began to feel sad. And for the first time in a long time, I actually felt like I may want to get married as a gay man.
While I won't be able to attend, I am in full support of Tuesday's March on Springfield to demand the passage of legislation in Illinois to allow same-sex couples to marry and obtain all the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
For many years, I hadn't cared about same-sex marriage with as much fervor as others. I have, though, always respected my friends and colleagues who fight this battle. To me, marriage equality was merely a Band-Aid to larger problems.
The past few years, I have found it difficult to get worked up over marriage equality when I have seen LGBT youth on the streets of Boystown hungry, homeless and looking for support. It was tough to attend a caucus on gay marriage while transgender women faced high levels of violence just for walking down the street.
Recently, I was looking up data about same-sex marriage. (I am really into data and studies, so this is something I often do just for fun.) I was stunned by what Census numbers told me about same-sex couples in America. According to 2000 data crunched by UCLA's Williams Institute, there was a same-sex couple in 93 percent of the counties across America.
When I saw that number, I realized that we are truly everywhere. I began to understand why it's become such a huge issue. I began to understand why so many get so emotional. And I understand why it is so ludicrous that it's not legal now.
The data showed me that beyond the numerous arguments made for same-sex marriage, the fact remains that you can't turn a corner without bumping into a same-sex couple these days. And that is reason enough to have it legal everywhere, from sea to shining sea.
I can now see that same-sex marriage is more than just a Band-Aid to the issues LGBT people face. I just hope that when marriage passes we don't forget that we have so much work still to do. Marriage is just a step—albeit a huge one—down a path that leads to all Americans being fully equal under the law.
I hope my mom is right and I can be next to wed in Illinois. But believe that while I am planning this future wedding of mine, I won't forget or ignore all the other issues the LGBT community faces outside of wedding dresses and churches and cakes adorned with same-sex couples.
Zach Stafford is a RedEye special contributor.
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