Once upon a time, states did not allow a black person to marry a white person.

Thankfully, over time, our values and ideas have changed, and the laws have evolved to reflect this. The time has come for them to change again: this time, to accept same-sex marriages.

Briefly, the facts: in November, Massachusetts found a ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, opening the floodgates for other states to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Now, Bush says he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The problem at hand is essentially changing the definition of the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples. However, many forget that this definition has already changed over the years. What used to be an institution of arranged marriages and men asking fathers for their daughters’ hands has evolved to allow for annulment, separation, divorce, remarriage, extended families and even quickie Vegas nuptials.

Why should people who are in love be discouraged from making a legal, public commitment to each other and enjoying the benefits that come along with that? Isn’t that a good thing?

Currently, only married individuals are entitled to federal benefits like Social Security and federal tax deductions, and marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Maybe things would be different if all 50 states supported gay marriage.

To much of the college student population, the same-sex marriage controversy is simply a generation-gap issue. After all, we have grown up with gays and lesbians as part of mainstream society, whereas our parents and grandparents’ generations are still coming to terms with accepting sexual freedom.

Pop culture has embraced gay couples, as evidenced by shows like Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the more mainstream Will & Grace. Openly gay artists like Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge and Rupert Everett are very popular. Also, there are MTV’s attempts to expose the world to gay issues and the recent prevalence of gay individuals on reality TV shows.

In the meantime, politicians across the country are unsuccessfully trying to do a balancing act. They don’t want to appear to be anti-gay rights, but they also don’t want to be “too liberal” and lose votes. Democratic candidate John Kerry said he is against the constitutional amendment and against same-sex marriage, but in favor of civil unions. He’s trying to play it safe by being middle-of-the-road. Instead, Kerry should come out (pun intended) and have the courage to fully support gay rights.

Likewise, when Bush proposed the amendment, he tried using very politically correct language, saying he supported gay rights and would leave room for civil unions to take place. His administration is attempting to divert the public’s attention from more important issues in the upcoming election, like the economy and the situation in Iraq, by bringing the same-sex marriage debate to the table.

Strangely enough, this controversy has blurred the traditional lines and positions of both parties. Republicans who are usually advocates for a weaker federal government are now campaigning for a constitutional amendment. Democrats who normally favor strong government want the devolution of power to the states.

It’s unlikely for a constitutional amendment to pass, not only because it requires a two-thirds approval in the House and Senate and then ratification by three fourths of the states, but also because it goes against the basic principles on which our society stands (or should stand). Simply proposing it is extremely unyielding. It doesn’t allow room for debate, and it denies states the right to create laws that best represent and protect their citizens.

It’s time for a country that prides itself in protecting liberty to allow same-sex couples to say, “I do” – and (try to) live happily ever after.