The moment that thousands of families have been waiting for finally came Friday, and although it was years in the making it represented what still seems like a sudden and profound change in the national psyche.

Men and women in every single state can now marry the person they love, create families and build their lives together with the full legal rights and responsibilities that the marriage contract guarantees. How did it happen, just 20 years after Congress passed a law (signed by President Bill Clinton) which outlawed any marriage except those between a man and a woman?

We saw it in Maine. It started with the passage of anti-discrimination laws, allowing people to be open about their sexuality without fear of losing their jobs or apartments. As people came out of the shadows, more marriage opponents realized that neighbors, friends, family members and coworkers were gay, and did not fit the scaremongers’ stereotypes.

Thousands of conversations between ordinary people laid the groundwork for the high-flown arguments in the nation’s courts, culminating in Portland resident Mary Bonauto’s argument in the Supreme Court.

It took all three branches of government on the state and national level to reach this point. Clearly some who fought to prevent this day from coming are probably wondering now what will come next.

If they look to Maine, they will see that there is nothing to worry about. Mothers and fathers now have the security of marriage, and their children are protected, too. There is respect and dignity for every family.

It’s not often that legal documents can pass for great literature, but the last paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority stands as some of the most moving words captured in a courtroom.

We quote it here in full:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

It was a long time coming, but this part of the struggle for human dignity is over. This result should give inspiration to all those who will be engaged in the struggles ahead.

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