Equal Rights for Gay Americans Are Inevitable

It's just a matter of time until the United States gives gay Americans all the rights they are entitled to as citizens

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Gay rights groups are increasingly an important source of campaign money.

Thursday is big day that celebrates the eternal American quest for equality. On this day in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring that racial segregation was a violation of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Today is also the anniversary of the day in 2004 when the first gay couple in the United States was legally married due to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Council's ruling that the state could not discriminate against gay residents.

This week we also observe the infamous anniversary of the high court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 that validated racial segregation until the Brown decision. The 58-year gap between Plessy and Brown demonstrates how much time the march to freedom takes. Bigots can slow the march to freedom but they can't stop it. Thomas Jefferson believed that once some people tasted freedom, everyone would push hard until they had the same rights. Women had to wait until 131 years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution for political equality. Blacks weren't able to enjoy the fruits of freedom until the 1960s.

The path to full citizenship is slow but it's just a matter of time until it comes. And it will come for gays in the same way that it came for blacks and women. Within the next two years, the Supreme Court will hear a case about the constitutionality of Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in California, and the omens for the repeal of Prop 8 are promising. Hopefully, the court will rule that the equal protection clause of the Constitution mandates that states treat straights and gays the same way without prejudice.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Justice Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote on the nation's highest court and he has supported two important court rulings that affirmed the rights of gays to be treated as first class citizens. The citizens of Colorado, like California voters, passed a ballot question that would have restricted gay rights. Justice Kennedy was the author of the decision in Romer v. Evans in 1992 which said that state attempts to restrict gay rights were a violation of the 14th Amendment. The anniversary of this case comes on Sunday.

Justice Kennedy also supported the court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that declared the Lone Star state's law against gay sex was unconstitutional. Kennedy's rulings suggest that he could be the key vote that produces a Supreme Court decision in the California case on Prop 8.

[See a slide show of the members of the Supreme Court.]

Freedom can take a long time to come but it can't be stopped forever. Segregationists were able to delay social and political freedom for blacks but they couldn't stop the inevitable march to freedom. Religious bigots won't be able to stop the march for gay rights, either.

President Barack Obama's endorsement of equality for gays represents a turning point in American social history in the same way that Abraham Lincoln's opposition to slavery opened the door to freedom for black Americans. I'm not sure whether President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage was politically correct or not, but I do know it was the right thing to do.  

[Read the U.S. News debate: Will Obama's Support of Gay Marriage Help Him Politically?]

Segregationists like Gov. George Wallace and Sen. Strom Thurmond who tried to restrict blacks to second-class citizenship are remembered as first-class bigots. The same fate awaits the opponents of full citizenship for gays.

Even if the court punts, it's just a matter of time until the United States gives gay Americans all the rights they are entitled to as citizens. Millennials, the generation of Americans between the ages 18 and 30, are poised to replace the baby boomers as the dominant force in American politics. And young Americans support the full force of freedom for gays by an overwhelming margin.

It's time for Americans to board the train of freedom before it leaves the station.

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