James Neiley Testifies before Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee
This debate isn’t just about marriage, it is equally focused on the social issues that anti hate-crime and harassment laws work to prevent. Without marriage equality, the boys in the locker room during gym class who harassed me are encouraged to believe that my sexuality means there is something different, wrong, and lesser about me. They know I don’t have the same rights as they do. They know I cannot have a big, tacky, expensive wedding, filled with family and friends no matter how much I want to. Knowing this fuels their ideals, and fuels the many forms of cruelty felt by LGBTQ youth throughout the state. When I came out, I knew I wasn’t considered equal. I didn’t even consider myself equal, how could I? When I know the best I can do in most states is get a civil union, how am I supposed to feel accepted? How am I supposed to overcome the ripping, nagging feeling that maybe I am inferior? I have to consciously remind myself every day that I am not defined by my rights. I have to remind myself every day that I am worth nothing less than my heterosexual friends because I happen to be attracted to other guys. I want Vermont to let me feel right. I want Vermont to help me feel like I am worth just as much to the world as my brother, or my mom, or my dad, because there is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with being gay.
That really is what we are debating here. I’m not saying those who disagree aren’t allowed to hold their own opinion. I am just stating that it was not my choice to be gay, but I’m pretty happy with the way the dice rolled, and I refuse to accept the current law telling me I have to leave my home to be considered worthy of marriage. Honestly, I love Vermont, and I can’t believe that somewhere with such beauty, and somewhere with so many artistic, caring, and courageous people would disallow happiness to a whole group of equally shimmering people just because of sexuality.
I’ve heard the argument that this debate isn’t just about sexuality, that what we are talking about now is the need for children to be brought up with certain gender roles filled. I have been told that a child needs a mother and a father to be ok, to be happy, to be educated and brought up “right”. I completely disagree, and on my own behalf, I know that if I were to have a child, I would do my best to make him/her grown up to be a positive influence on the community. I would pack them a lunch, and always put a brownie in to brighten their day. I would drop them off at soccer practice, or choir, or dance, or anything they wanted to put their mind to. I would sing them to sleep. I would push them on the swings and let them win races by no more than a centimeter. I would raise them the exact same way my amazing parents raised me. I would raise them to be no one but themselves, and to respect the same in others.
I have been blessed with so much love in my life. My parents, my beautiful sister, and my favorite (and only) brother, and I cannot claim to understand how that love could miraculously be absent in a family that happened to have to fathers, or two mothers. I know I could care for a child just as well as my parents have. I know I could provide them with the same support, and provide them with just as stable a household. I want to be respected. I want to be accepted, just like every other person in this world.
So I’m not asking to get married in a Catholic church, or intrude on the rights of those establishments. I’m not asking for the right to disrespect other traditions, I just want to be able to say I’m married to my neighbors when they come over for a family barbecue. I want homosexuality to stop being treated like a bad word, like one of those words you have to stop yourself from saying around a five year old. I want children to grow up understanding diversity, and understanding that marriage is about love, not gender roles. I want them to grow into people who will not use the phrase “that’s so gay”, not because they are told it is politically incorrect, but because they know it doesn’t make sense. I want, in fifty years, for same-sex marriage to be just as blatantly obvious as women’s rights, or interracial marriage. I just want to be equal, and what better place to start than Vermont? Thank you.