“Happy gays are here again” was the headline for an article appearing in The Economist on May 16. Starting the day before, advocates of same-sex marriage were in fact celebrating.

On May 15, California became the second state to allow full marriage rights for same-sex couples. Marriage licenses will be given to same-sex couples beginning June 16.

While Massachusetts and California stand alone as states allowing same-sex couples full marriage rights, the ruling is celebrated as a symbolic move that will hopefully prompt other states to follow Massachusetts and California’s examples.

Despite numerous public statements of rejoicing from citizens, celebrities and politicians, the ruling may not be permanent. California’s November ballot will have a referendum opposing gay marriage that, if passed, would nullify the May 15 court ruling. The referendum aims to amend the state constitution and clarify marriage as an act only between a man and a woman.

According to The Economist, gay-friendly Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger “has said he would oppose changing the state constitution and promised this week to uphold the court’s decision.”

Falling in favor with the state courts is one thing, but California voters ultimately have the power to give this ruling legal permanence and societal resonance.

It is our responsibility to stand up for equal treatment of same-sex couples like we stand up for all other egalitarian ideals in our society. While it may not fall in favor with some of the American population for political, moral or religious reasons, same-sex marriages need to be afforded the same rights as opposite-sex marriages.

Our state has taken the first step in making that happen.

Court precedent is the catalyst for progress in our legal system. It was a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned many states’ then present bans on interracial marriage. The court case was aptly named Loving v. Virginia.

June 12, 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of the ruling, and Mildred Loving issued a public statement commenting on the current battle for same-sex marriage rights:

“Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

“I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

Amen to that.