Gay Youth: Coming of Age in the Marriage-Equality Era
Certainly, as a glance at the headlines on this website any given day proves, the fight for equality is far from done. But today's LGBT youth are growing up with a far different picture: They have open classroom discussions about gay rights; look up to out-gay entertainers, clergy, politicians and, yes, more and more athletes. And now they're not only seeing same-sex couples get married and raise kids but also are coming into a world where it is rapidly being considered the norm.
Newly released census data shows there are more than 900,000 same-sex households in the United States and that 22 percent are raising children, according to the Williams Institute. They are moving out of the gay ghettos and into every county in the United States. It's a world of difference from the ostracism of years past.
"Marriage is on the minds of LGBT youth more so than ever before," said Dr. Anthony D'Augelli, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University. But he also believes that it was a goal for many of us before Massachusetts made it a reality and started the ball rolling toward same-sex legal marriages in the United States.
We've Wanted Marriage For a Long Time
In the early 2000s, before same-sex marriage licenses were handed out in San Francisco (briefly) and Massachusetts, he and a team of researchers interviewed 133 young gay men and lesbians about their feelings of getting married and starting families.
The findings: More than 90 percent of females and 80 percent of males saw themselves in monogamous long-term relationships after age 30. Two-thirds of the females and more than half of the males could envision themselves raising children someday.
At the time, the results surprised D'Augelli. I just didn't think that was on their minds as much as other kinds of issues," he said, "But no one ever asked them."
Today, with highly publicized same-sex marriage battles happening across the nation, it doesn't surprise him as much that young people are so aware of marriage -- or LGBT issues in general, for that matter. "We know a lot more than we used to. There are more out, they're out at earlier ages, more of them are accepted by their parents than ever before, by their peers and siblings than ever before," he said. "All of these historical changes have brought along a whole different kind of approach to gay adolescence."
Seeing same-sex marriage and families become more of a reality opens doors and affects youth's projections of themselves in the future. "Now not only do more families accept them, not all the time, but more so than ever," D'Augelli said. "But the families actually look forward to having a wedding and look forward to having grandchildren."
Salvatore Garanzini, a same-sex couples' counselor in San Francisco, has had a few young married couples come through his doors at the Gay Couples Institute. He sees more at his workshops; the more expensive one-on-one therapy isn't as accessible for most young people.
The brief window when same-sex marriage was legal in California in 2008 provided him with a shock. His phone was ringing off the hook from young couples that had had shotgun, Vegas-style quickie weddings. "They met their boyfriend or girlfriend over the weekend, really hit it off and got married at the courthouse," he said. "Two or three months later, they were calling us for help." Wed in haste, repent at leisure, as they used to say.
Garanzini's youngest couple seeking counseling consisted of two men, 18 and 19 years old. Two relatively recent developments have changed LGBT youth's aspirations for getting married: the Internet, where gay or questioning youth are connecting; and the same-sex marriage battle, which is legitimizing that drive to connect.