06/22/2012 08:48 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Celebrating Gay Pride -- And America

One year ago, one my favorite couples decided to tie the knot. And you know why? Because, at last, they could. Just the day before, Christine and Julia were not permitted to marry in the State of New York. But then on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo opened the door to compassion, and signed a historic law legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in New York.

For most of us who live here, it was a day of celebration. Although ours was not the first state to legalize gay marriage (we're the sixth of seven states to do so), we had come a long way. It was here at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on a warm summer night in 1969 that gay men and women first fought back against the discrimination that had marginalized their lives for so many years. Following a police raid at the Stonewall, riots broke out, and the message from the gay community was loud and clear: Enough.

As we continue to celebrate Gay Pride month, it's important to step back and remember milestones like Stonewall, if only because it's difficult to see history as we live it. Even with same-sex marriage laws on the books in seven American states -- and similar legislation brewing in many others -- we need to be mindful that this landmark moment in our time is not the final destination, but a momentary clearing in the brush as we continue our ongoing journey to a greater democracy.

Unfathomable as it may seem now, it wasn't so long ago that interracial marriage was a criminal offense in this country; anti-miscegenation laws even made sex between consenting members of different races illegal in some places. Those laws were not changed until 1967. And when we look back at those who opposed the change, we wonder what must have been in their hearts. Often the answer is fear.

Will future generations look back at us and wonder what was in our hearts when we denied gays the right to marry for so long? Yes, I'm afraid they will. Thankfully, in our lifetime, we're able to witness one more barrier to freedom being torn down.

When I wrote a letter to President Obama last month, I thanked him for his support of gay marriage, and for helping to fulfill the dream of our Founding Fathers: the right to "the pursuit of happiness." And that dream is not debatable. We can debate business regulations, health care reform, immigration laws. But gay rights are a fundamental human right: the right to live and love.

Here in New York, we have billboards that read, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married." I love that slogan -- it's clever and it's funny. But it's also pretty clear: There is no threat to traditional marriage here or anywhere, any more than there was from interracial marriage a generation ago. It's simply a question of civil rights. And when the dust finally settles -- and it will -- I hope to see a country where all families are respected and embraced, and all are free to love whom they choose.

We've put together a slide show that recalls some of the more memorable moments from the gay rights movement around the world. When I look at these images, I feel proud of the progress we've made as a country, and look forward to even greater victories. I hope you do, too.

A Brief History of Gay Rights