When you celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday, you recognized the right of gays and lesbians to get married like any other American.
The Fourth celebrates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, which contains these words. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal." Those words did not free the slaves, but they started a movement toward equal rights for all Americans.
The agony of the Civil War advanced the cause of political equality. In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln echoed Jefferson’s words when he said "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Jefferson’s ideals and Lincoln’s hopes were embodied in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which became effective in 1868. The 14th Amendment says, "Nor shall any state … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The wave of freedom started with blacks in 1868 then moved on to women through the 19th Amendment ratified in 1920. The next wave of freedom will extend the American Dream to gay and lesbian Americans. [Check out a roundup of gay marriage political cartoons.]
The equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment means that states must treat all their citizens equally. States can’t favor men over women, whites over blacks, or heterosexuals over gays. In the near future, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionally of the California prohibition against marriage equality. If the Court does rule that the California law is a violation of the equal protection clause as a lower federal court already has, thousands of gay couples in the Golden State will join the ranks of same sex couples who now can legally marry in New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Equal protection should equal marriage equality.
However the Supreme Court rules, gays, like blacks and women, will eventually bask in the sunlight of equality. A majority of Americans now favor gay marriage and support will continue to grow. Demography is destiny, and young Americans overwhelmingly favor gay marriage.
Conservatives can slow down the march to freedom, but the big victory for gay marriage in New York State should show religious extremists they can’t stop the movement that Jefferson started with the Declaration of Independence.