06/27/2011 04:00 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2011


Thank you, New York State. The land of the free is a little bit freer. I can almost see Lady Liberty pushing open our nation's doors a bit wider, welcoming people in these often dis-united states to enter that most conservative state of all -- the state of matrimony. "Liberty and justice for all" also requires responsibility. Commitment to marriage is one of the most important and most arduous responsibilites one can assume.

It won't be easy, but throwing off injustice never is. In his 1963 letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Right. The "arc of the moral universe" needs our help in bending toward justice.

So far as I know, Darwin didn't say, "The only constant is change." But what he did tell us is that over time, even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference. It has taken countless acts and actions over two full generations of civil engagement to enable New York State to do what's right on a Friday night in June, 2011.

How did it happen? One step at a time, one person at a time.

In 1999, when we had a public conversation with Dudley Clendinen about Out for Good (his compelling history of the gay rights movement), we were still a long way from a long overdue tidal turn toward marriage equality. Lest we forget, as the millennium turned, it still took raw courage to write and stand behind such a book.

A very long five long years later, finding a comrade in Jonathan Rauch might have surprised me, but his argument in favor of marriage equality didn't. Marriage is a bedrock of civilization, so by definition marriage is conservative. Conservatives must embrace marriage equality, so get on board, said he.

How can one possibly argue with someone who wants to be married, I asked him in what turns out to be an entirely rhetorical question. The institution of marriage itself -- in the words of commencement rituals everywhere -- comes complete "...with all the rights, privileges, honors and responsibilities thereunto appertaining"? In fact, marriage is a kind of commencement. Ask anyone whose done it.

So, again, thank you, New York. And Iowa. Massachusetts. Vermont, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. The great state of matrimony offers an opportunity for the rest of this nation to honor a pledge yet to be fulfilled: "liberty and justice for all," with all the accompanying responsibilities.

*-- published in 2004, Mr. Rauch's relevant book is Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.