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COMMENTARY: The Prop 8 battle is about more than marriage equality

(This story was originally published on HuffPost Gay Voices, a content partner of SDGLN.)

It's been more than three years since Prop 8 -- dubbed California's "Marriage Protection Act" -- passed by a narrow 52% in a vote that instantly categorized the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community as a group of second-class citizens.

When Prop 8 passed, it took a huge emotional toll on me, my partner, my community, and LGBTQ people across the country and around the world. It did more than dissolve our right to marry; it strongly divided our state and our country, and, in some cases, it strongly eroded our self-esteem.

The passing of Prop 8 made us feel sad, angry, ostracized, not only because we were told we couldn't marry the person we loved, but because we were simultaneously being told we were deemed a threat to traditional marriage. We were being told that we were less than, that despite all we've given to our state as hardworking, taxpaying citizens, we were second-class, and we didn't deserve equal rights, simply because of our sexual orientations.

I've been a Californian for as long as I can remember, and an openly gay one for the past 15 years.

I grew up in a middle-class, conservative, suburban neighborhood in San Diego, where my peers led me to believe from a very young age that being gay was a bad thing.

From fifth grade through 10th grade, I dealt with my fair share of bullying. Some of it stemmed from people thinking I was gay; others just targeted me because of the way I carried myself. I was a pretty insecure guy at times, because I knew I was different from my peers. I think that in some cases, that raised a red flag for those who were looking for someone to pick on.

When I was in junior high I contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. I knew, however, that I could never go through with it, because I loved my family far too much, and I knew that they loved me.

As I grew older and learned to accept myself as a gay man, I couldn't help but wonder how those who loathed themselves as I had when I was young dealt with similar thoughts of suicide without the loving support of their families.

I consider myself lucky to be experiencing the ongoing turmoil caused by the seemingly never-ending Prop 8 battle in my early- to mid-30s, well after I accepted myself as a gay man. I can only imagine what a heavy amount of emotional damage this battle has caused teenagers who may be struggling with their sexuality.

For those young people in the LGBTQ community who all too often hear the hateful words espoused by politicians, religious fanatics, neighbors, and bullies, I hope and pray that they have strong support systems at home, families that console them when it's needed and remind them they are loved for being exactly who they are.

But, like the rest of us, I know many people in our community do not have the love and support they need when dealing with something as important and life-altering as their sexuality. Some are kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets, while others are badly beaten by the same people who are supposed to protect them. Others are harassed so vehemently that they've found no other option but to take their own lives.

I know for a fact that if I didn't feel loved growing up, I wouldn't be here today. And I think that in many cases, those in the LGBTQ community who have found suicide as their only option would still be with us today if they had been surrounded by unconditional love and support.

A final thought for those who voted in favor of Prop 8 nearly three and a half years ago:

I hope one day you'll have the benefit of knowing that we, the LGBTQ people who are your neighbors, teachers, doctors, artists, musicians, actors, politicians and -- yes -- your hairstylists, are a pretty phenomenal group of people. Maybe then we can all just get along.

Follow Patrick Wallace on Twitter.