Editor's Note: The author of this commentary, Alejandra Alarcon, 18, writes for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth-led community media organization founded by NAM to serve residents of the rural Eastern Coachella Valley.
I've never had any reason to think that I wouldn’t be able to someday marry the person I truly love. That's something that isn't true of many of my closest friends who are gay. So why should I care about the issue of marriage equality? After all, I’m not gay, and discrimination against gay people doesn’t really interfere with my daily life.
The answer is that I don't have to be gay or even a victim of discrimination to understand what it feels like for someone else to be judged unfairly for something they have no control over, especially when that judgement is directed at the people I love the most.
My mother, an immigrant from Mexico, has been a U.S. citizen for 12 years. She’s worked for the local school district for seven of those years, yet doesn’t receive the same benefits as other district employees in higher positions. Instead, she has remained in the same low-paying position, and I can’t help but think that it has something to do with the way she speaks English, which influences the way others perceive her.
It’s not that she doesn’t make every effort to adapt -- at home, she asks my siblings and I to speak to her only in English so she can practice. As a result, I’ve seen her English improve. Yet she still hasn’t been able to get a promotion, and that’s been tough for me to see. And of course, it’s not just about her – it’s a situation that affects our whole family.
Because of who she is and the way she speaks, my mother is still the “other” -- unworthy of what most take for granted, despite her contributions.
Which is all to say that for me, the fight for marriage equality and gay rights is not just about gay people gaining the right to sign a legal document of matrimony. It’s about fighting for things that are much bigger -- the right to love, free expression and an end to discrimination in all its forms.
I’m not alone in my thinking. I come from a generation where being homosexual is a storm in a teacup – it is not a big deal at all.
During a recent psychology class at College of the Desert (the local community college) our instructor asked: “If you were told the sexual orientation of your unborn baby and had the power to change it, would you?” Some students in the room snickered, as if the question made them uncomfortable. During the course of the discussion that followed, however, a clear majority of students said they would not choose to change their child’s sexual orientation if they knew he or she would be gay. A few did admit to preferring that their baby be straight, but only so their child would not have to suffer the social discrimination that comes with being gay.
Despite the progressive attitudes among young people, it’s still hard to be bold and honest about who you are when the law of the land says that who you are is fundamentally less equal. Some of my gay friends here in the Coachella Valley are still uncomfortable with expressing their love to their partners in public spaces. It’s sad to see my friends put on a different mask – it’s a reminder to me of how far we have to go as a society in embracing civil rights for all.
But the attitudes I see coming from my generation give me hope. And when we do inevitably overcome this struggle, we will surely look back at this point in time just as we now look back on the 1960s, when interracial marriage was illegal.
Let’s hope that the Supreme Court agrees with my generation. It is time to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. It is time to do away with the concept of the “other.” It is time to allow my friends and loved ones to have the same dreams as me.