I look at all of you with your families, your kids, your gratifying lives together, and I’m proud of you for having created a place for yourselves where you and your spouses are safe, happy, encouraged and indulged. I’m proud that you’ve taken the lessons our parents taught us, to be industrious, curious, ethical and conscientious in all you do. You’ve all made a life for yourselves that may be possible only in this great country. Other places in the world you might have been restrained by your class, lack of education, different religious beliefs or ethnicity. You may have been relegated to a menial position in society as a function of your color or name or nationality.

But you were born and raised in the United States of America, where our national understanding is that we are all ‘created equal.’ Sometimes we take for granted the words of our sacred documents, those powerful phrases that Thomas Jefferson penned 234 years ago this Spring, that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all know these words, and we recite them with pride at least once a year, on our national day of independence. Sadly, we too often tuck them away for the rest of the year, taking them for granted, forgetting things that I am about to remind you of in this missive.

To whit: The words Mister Jefferson wrote are indeed powerful, and moving. At the time they were written they were not only astonishing, they were radical in nature. Indeed, they were treasonous. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Locke, Sherman, the men who shepherded the document that created this nation into existence knew better than anyone that having written those words, and then affixing their signatures to the paper, opened them up to charges by King George the 3rd that could result in their execution. It was no small thing; those men were stating, on paper, for all the world to read, that they and all the colonists had ‘a right to be free.’ They were throwing down the gauntlet, saying, in effect, we will no longer obey the laws, treaties, taxation demands or subjection of the British Empire, the most powerful nation the world had ever known up to that time. Those men were all British subjects, and many of them felt they were signing their death warrant.

Many years of revolution, hardship and desperation followed before the Declaration of Independence meant anything more than a piece of paper signed by a group of landed, wealthy white men, wishing to free themselves of England’s boot heel so they could trade and make treaties on their own, and grow even more wealthy. But you see, and this is the part that sounds unpatriotic, Mister Jefferson never intended freedom for ‘all’ men. Not really. At the time of the signing, educated, white, Christian, male property owners were what he and his colleagues had in mind. Notice he didn’t write ‘all men and women are created equal.’ Mister Jefferson owned several slaves. He had included language in the Declaration meant to phase out the peculiar institution of slavery, with the intention of removing blacks, eventually, to another country. But Jefferson’s anti-slavery language was stricken from the final document, in order to win approval from other slaveholding signatories, allowing passage of the Declaration. Indeed, our national freedom document was signed by a group of men who never envisioned the logical, indeed the intended words to be applied in their entirety to ‘all men.’

They never intended, for instance, that ‘all men’ meant ALL MEN. There was the nagging problem of what to do about men who didn’t own property, yet agitated for voting rights nonetheless. And they got those rights, too, but not without a struggle. They never intended for men of color to be included. Anyone who knows our history between 1861 and 1865, from Sumter to Appomattox knows what happened when that struggle ruptured the country, and black men asserted their rights. The principle of ‘coverture’ was law at the time. Coverture kept women dependent, denying them the right to own property, get an education or have an income without their husband’s approval. Fully 144 years after the Declaration was signed, women finally won the right to vote, and coverture disappeared. It could be argued that Mister Jefferson’s powerful words, as simple and radical as they were at the time, were exclusive, not inclusive, which is what they ought to have been if their central theme of equality for ‘all men’ was what he truly meant. Instead, our national Declaration of Independence is even today a work in progress.

Because those words have been subject to interpretation, and even armed struggle at times, our history is littered with the debris of battles between those demanding their rights and those who would deny them those rights, for whatever reason.

The U.S. Constitution, at least at the outset, gets it right. “We the People,” it starts. Not men, nor women, nor white, black, Christian, Muslim but ‘People.’ The Constitution guarantees rights through its several amendments that have been passed through the years, when various alterations were deemed necessary to insure the rights of a segment of ‘We the people’ otherwise denied. One of the most important amendments, added in 1868, is the 14th. Section 1 of the 14th amendment is referred to as the equal protection clause. Simply stated, it says that any citizen of the United States is entitled to equal protection under the law. This is important, because up to that time, various groups of people could be denied their day in court, simply because of who they were. With the exception of the 18th amendment creating prohibition, and the 21st repealing it, every amendment has as its goal the protection of a group of citizens otherwise disenfranchised in American society. This is important, too. The Constitution is not a sword; it is a shield. The document establishing our rights as citizens was never intended to protect the powerful, or the majority, but the weak and the minority.

We have arrived at yet another point in our history where a group of fellow citizens is being systematically denied full rights and protections. Regardless of how you feel about their persons, practices, beliefs or identifications, our LGBT brothers and sisters, contrary to the 14th amendment and various other founding documents, are being denied equal protection, and the full benefit of citizenship in the United States of America. They are indeed members in good standing of ‘We the people.’ They fall easily into the definition of ‘all men’ and they are now, rightfully so, demanding their full rights, protections and benefits under our laws and Constitution. One of the rights they are demanding is the right to marry the person they love. Despite Supreme court rulings that marriage is a human right by definition, LGBT people in America are being restricted from the full, gratifying, stabilizing and socially strengthening power of civil marriage equality. This is simply wrong, and the stain of this restriction must be removed. It is time to stop denying that segment of our society the full, guaranteed rights they demand. Bear in mind that I am not referring to matrimony, nor am I writing of church or religious marriage. This is not about the Bible, religion, sin, ethics or morality. The only moral issue here is how anyone claiming to be an American can, in good conscience, continue to oppose such blatant discrimination and live with their hypocrisy. The same separation between church and state that protects your religious belief from government interference must–simply must–protect civil rights for all citizens. At present this is not so. To those who fear demands by LGBT people to force churches to perform marriages, or hire people whose lives and identities they disdain, I am fully on your side. Were the state to attempt coercion of such things I will stand at your church door with you demanding that the state desist. For ministers, priests, rabbis or mullahs who still preach the myth of a homosexual agenda, let me say this in plain language: they are either actively misguided, or they are liars. They are using fear and intimidation to force you to support them, and they are simply lying to you. Anyone who claims to be a man or woman of God preaching hatred and division should be ashamed of this reprehensible behavior, defrocked and sent packing.

I look at heterosexual couples, and I see them enjoying those rights–to marry, establish a safe, loving home, build a life together, raise kids in a safe environment, strengthen the social status of marriage by their example, and I see a very good thing. I see a status of marriage that fits my own definition. Then I see people, some of my own family included, enjoying those same rights and privileges yet actively denying them to other people, and I am shamed. If you truly cherish what you and your spouse have built together, the love, joy and commitment you value above all else, but then refuse to allow another human being that same joy and fulfillment, shame on you. Examine your conscience, and reconsider this hateful behavior. You’ll feel better, and your fears will prove unfounded.

The demand for civil marriage equality not only recognizes the denial of rights, and a way to redress that denial, the prospect raises the status of marriage, by saluting a group of people actively demanding its rights and benefits. I see heterosexual couples taking for granted the status of marriage every day, unaware that many of the rights within marriage have been altered and refined over many years. Not long ago it was possible for men to rape their wives and to expect full protection from the law. This is no longer the case, but only because women demanded change. Coverture is no longer a part of marriage. Restricting womens’ ability to earn money, own property or educate themselves today would be ludicrous. In 1967, it was illegal in sixteen states for whites and blacks to marry each other. Withholding marriage rights from interracial couples today would be laughable. Marriage has changed and evolved through the years to become what it is today: a rite–and a right–defined not by property and privilege, but by love. Couples don’t marry for procreation, property or convenience. They marry for love. Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters fall in love every day, just as we do; they desire to establish homes and families together, just like we do; they want to devote their lives to each other, to protect, nurture, intercede for and encourage each other, just like we do. And they want to get married–just like we do. It is time we let them.

It is time, my friends. It is time to recognize that a grave dishonor is being perpetuated in this great country. We Americans are denying a basic human right to people who wish only to join us in celebrating the single strongest bond society knows, the marriage of two people who love and cherish each other. It is time to recognize that gays and lesbians exist, that they love and work among us every day, that they have the same desires, dreams and duties we do. It is time civil marriage equality is recognized as simply the right thing to do. It is time.