A robust debate and numerous personal conversations are helping our nation, in President Lincoln's words, "think anew" about how America treats gay couples and their kids and loved ones.
Every year, around Lincoln's birthday and Valentine's Day, gay and non-gay people gather in living rooms, houses of worship, parks and civic halls to celebrate the values of equality and love, and call for an end to discrimination in marriage.
Freedom to Marry Day, Feb. 12, is a day to share personal stories, and ask others to push past discomfort and embrace fairness and marriage equality. Freedom to Marry Week, which stretches from February 12-18, helps even more Americans get to know the real faces behind this civil rights movement.
Two years ago, on Feb. 12, 2004, the nation watched as hundreds of couples lined up in San Francisco to legally wed in that state for the first time.
This year, in hundreds of American cities, citizens will be hosting statehouse rallies, wedding ceremonies, book parties, family picnics and discussion groups to learn and inform about the freedom to marry.
Ministers and rabbis from Texas to Vermont and from Washington state to the Sunshine State have given sermons in support of equal marriage rights, helping their congregations to understand the scriptural underpinnings of embracing their neighbors with love and compassion as well as the importance of equal civil marriage rights for all families.
This is a week to engage the people around us in this conversation about fairness. Gay people -- and our friends, families and allies -- cannot assume that just because a person loves us and is generally a good guy that this person understands how the denial of marriage harms us. We have to challenge each other and ourselves to make a more substantive, moral case for what we stand for.
It is not enough for gay people and our allies to say we are for marriage equality, and then wait for the courts or legislators to do the heavy lifting. Rather, it is our job to take every opportunity to address people's concerns and discomfort, answer questions, and give them the time and information they need.
When non-gay people talk about marriage, they mean love, clarity, security, respect, family, intimacy dedication, self-sacrifice and equality -- qualities which describe the relationships and lives of gay and lesbian couples just as well.
Trying to avoid supporting marriage equality by suggesting other, lesser solutions such as civil unions only complicates the issue by inviting questions about how such arrangements would be defined, what form they would take, how they would differ from marriage and what role states or the federal government would have.
Why do we need two lines at the clerk's office, or unequal protections for some couples and kids? With marriage, on the other hand, rights and obligations are already clearly established in all 50 states as well as with the federal government. Marriage is the system we have.
All families should share equally in the rights, protections and responsibilities currently afforded only to some. Gay families also deserve health care, retirement protections, the ability to use scarcely needed funds to afford education or a home and the ability to give kids the security to openly and proudly describe their families. This would make our nation stronger.
When our friends and families are given the truth about the injustice and unfairness of marriage discrimination, they are able to see past the false distractions and put a human face to the issue.
With justice and equality within reach, Freedom to Marry Week is an opportunity to engage our neighbors and fellow citizens in the personal and informational conversations they deserve -- and trust that from this commitment to engagement will come understanding about why marriage matters to our families.
Lincoln stood up for freedom, equality and fairness for all, even when it was at its most unpopular. Freedom to Marry Week also offers a unique opportunity to stand up for freedom, equality and fairness.
Evan Wolfson is executive director of Freedom to Marry, the gay and non-gay partnership working to end discrimination in marriage nationwide (www.freedomtomarry.org), and author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People's Right to Marry" (Simon & Schuster, 2004) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.