Two years ago when I was ‘outed’ to the entire university community by The Daily Princetonian in a classic Prince counterfactual and misquoted “news” piece about an alleged election controversy, I promised myself to never be put in a situation where I could be viewed as the spokesman for Princeton’s gay community. Aside from the fact that the Prince cannot seem to publish an article about me without the words “openly gay” in it, I stayed true to my promise – until about two weeks ago, when I received an email from a high school friend now in the process of applying to college.
He asked me how Princeton compared to other Ivies with respect to being comfortable for gay students. I couldn’t lie. In addition to a couple of negative experiences I’d had on the street regarding my sexuality, I told him I was having trouble convincing students that the USG should sign onto the Princeton Justice Project’s (PJP) amicus brief in Lewis v Harris, a case now pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court brought by seven same-sex couples suing the state for the right to marry. The outcome of Lewis v Harris does not only affect me; it affects all of Princeton.
When I came to Princeton I had many of the same concerns as my friend. I wanted to go to a university that offered me a comfortable and accepting space to pursue my academic and personal goals. In many ways I have been given that space. Unfortunately, in New Jersey – as in many states – I cannot have my commitment to a loving companion legally recognized. That denial makes me unequal in comparison to my heterosexual peers. The outcome of Lewis v Harris affects my legal status as a Princeton student and therefore directly falls in the realm of the organization that is supposed to deal with student concerns – the USG.
Not surprisingly, the usual suspects are putting on their fighting gloves, but don’t quite know where to start hitting. Opponents have put forth a variety of arguments against the referendum, saying that the issue is too divisive for the USG, the process was too rushed, and that it’s not a legitimate student concern. The truth is that opponents of the referendum do not want the debate to be about gay marriage because they believe they will lose. Instead they have focused on convincing the student body that Lewis v Harris does not concern students, hoping that the majority won’t realize that a minority of Princeton students do not have equal standing under New Jersey law.
It is the inequality enshrined into New Jersey law that makes Lewis v Harris a Princeton issue, and to me profoundly personal. I think about the choices my gay friend in high school might have before him. He could go to Harvard, where under Massachusetts’s law he can get married. He could go to Yale, where under Connecticut’s law he can enter into a civil union. Or he could come to Princeton, where even getting the USG to sign onto a brief supporting equality for gay students is an uphill battle. I believe losing talented students because of bigoted laws should be a top concern for every Princeton student.
For an organization that is supposed to represent some of the smartest students in the world, the USG must lead on this issue. Concerts, new gym equipment, and study breaks are nice, but this is a fundamental human rights issue that not only affects all current gay students, but potentially every single gay student who decides to go to Princeton or to one of our competitor institutions. This affects me. Princeton should not forget that every student concern is legitimate, even those of the minority.