Fourteen.

This is the number of times since 1888 that the Supreme Court has referred to marriage as a fundamental right. In the last case, Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, the Supreme Court specifically said that homosexuals are included in this constitutional protection.

Yet still we find ourselves in a legal battle over gay marriage. The Supreme Court will rule on cases regarding Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act before the term ends in June. What they will decide is unclear, but what they should decide isn’t. The Supreme Court should side with gay marriage.

DOMA leaves control of gay marriage to states but prevents the federal government from recognizing it and prevents gay married couples from receiving federal marriage benefits. If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, individual states will not be forced to permit gay marriage; the federal government will be required to recognize it.

“A chief aim of the Constitution as drafted by the convention was to create a government with enough power to act on a national level, but without so much power that fundamental rights would be at risk,” reads the White House website.

Our fundamental rights are at risk now – not because the government has exercised too much power, but because it has failed to.

Many opponents cite their religion as the basis of their intolerance toward gay marriage. The Catholic Church condemns homosexuality, even though Jesus never explicitly denounced it as a sin.

Religion drives much of the debate, but the United States Supreme Court cannot rule on gay marriage on the basis of any religion, whether in support of or opposed to it. This is precisely the problem.

“Marriage” is not simply a religious term or institution. It’s a term with legal and political implications, a legal institution with specific benefits that are fundamental rights to all Americans.

Catholicism already faces an internal struggle regarding homosexuality. Many devout Catholics disagree with the church’s stance on homosexuality. Perhaps part of the reason that the church is so worried about the legalization of gay marriage is because the law will fuel the already present dissent occurring over homosexuality amongst Catholic laity.

Opponents argue the problem arises when you consider the ramifications that will face religious institutions. They cannot be forced to acknowledge gay marriages themselves, but religious institutions fear the law will infringe upon other religious liberties. Among their fears are gay couples enrolling their children in religious schools, gays seeking employment, or gays seeking religious social services.

“Must rabbis, priests and pastors provide religious marriage counseling to same-sex couples?” asked Marc Stern to CNN. “Must churches and synagogues employ spouses who are in same-sex marriages? Must religious social service agencies place children for adoption with same-sex couples?”

It seems unlikely that there would be a legal assault on religious institutions who turn away gays. Religious schools have expelled children of gay parents without legal repercussions. It’s offensive and unfair, and doesn’t seem in order with the acceptance that religions preach. Legal repercussions are tempting but unnecessary; people will see injustices and make their own judgments.

But we are not even at that point. Religions’ fundamental rights are not being infringed upon, while individuals’ fundamental rights are going undefended.

There is also the argument that maybe the LGBT community shouldn’t want to conform to the conventional institution of marriage. But what if African-Americans had chosen not to “conform” to the society that rejected them during the Civil Rights Movement? Civil rights are not about forcing normalization and conformity, they’re about protecting the fundamental rights all people and giving everyone the opportunity to choose the lives they wish to lead.

There’s something more disconcerting about this fight for equality than simply the marriage aspect. A recent CNN survey allowed readers to rate the importance of different “gay” issues, for example, the bullying of LGBT students.

Since when does protection against LGBT bullying not fall under the protection against general bullying? Why do we continue to categorize the LGBT community as “others?” When did rights of the LGBT community become separate from human rights?

Is this seriously the society we want?

Please. This is not just a lighthearted movement about spreading the love. It’s about equality. It’s time to legalize gay marriage.

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