The Civil Rights Test of Our Generation

When we think of the civil rights movement, we tend to think of grainy footage of marches and speeches, Selma, Ala., and the National Mall.

But our generation, too, is a part of that movement and has a critical role to play. It has been a long journey for our country, but we are now close to finally realizing our founders' vision of a society where all are created equal and endowed with the same inalienable rights.

It's time to end the discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation that is the only form of institutionalized discrimination still permitted in our society. That is why I am working to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell and am committed to equal rights for all Americans.

On Saturday, President Obama will address the Human Rights Campaign. I hope he will use the opportunity to clearly call for the swift repeal of these discriminatory policies. We can get it done this year, and human rights should not be asked to wait.

In my three decades as an officer in the United States Navy, I lost good sailors to the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" law -- sailors that I, and the nation, depended on for their training, skills, and courage.

Over the last 16 years we've lost 12,500 good servicemembers to this policy. In a time of war, our national security cannot afford to lose these troops, especially high-value specialists and linguists. But more so, our military cohesion depends on honesty and integrity. How can we demand that the 65,000 of our troops who are estimated to be gay act dishonestly and conceal information from their comrades and commanders? No one who serves in defense of liberty should be forced to live a lie.

I cannot imagine denying equal rights to anyone I served with. How can anyone say, we fought and served together, we depended on one another, we risked our lives for this country, but back home you shouldn't enjoy the rights that you defended?

That's why I have co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA and require the federal government to extend to the tens of thousands of legally married same-sex couples the more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples, including tax, pension, and benefits rights and the right to take unpaid leave to care for ill spouses. I have sent a letter urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the bill up for a vote and I am circulating a petition to show support.

The struggle for equality has never been easy and it won't be today. But I am confident. This is a historic and, indeed, an exciting time for America, when we declare once and for all that there is no such thing as equality that doesn't extend to everyone, that we hold this truth to be self-evident.