For a while it seemed like Americans might not be ready to face the future — a future that demands that this nation’s promise of equality be made real for all of our people.

State after state barred same-sex marriage. Supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and all who cherish human rights felt sorrow, pain, and anger.

Then, out of the nation’s heartland, a fresh wind started to blow away the unfairness, prejudice and discrimination. The Iowa Supreme Court struck down the walls that held back marriage equality there.

In Vermont the wind blew away a Republican governor’s veto and same-sex marriage became legal there too. New Hampshire and Maine were next, joining Massachusetts, which had cast aside the discrimination and cruelty earlier. Then the breeze swept through the District of Columbia, as the nation’s capital, a majority African American metropolis, took a landmark stand for marriage equality and unity.

Now the New York Legislature has approved marriage equality and New Jersey is signaling that it is not far behind.

We congratulate LGBT rights groups and individuals who have struggled ceaselessly and courageously for these long overdue victories. We congratulate the people of these states and their elected representatives for affirming the constitutional guarantee that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of civil rights or be discriminated against.”

Those constitutional protections are incomplete unless marriage rights are included.

Marriage equality laws and rulings do not force any religious group to recognize or approve of a marriage that falls outside its system of beliefs. They do not require churches to perform ceremonies with which they disagree. What these laws and rulings do, however, is reaffirm separation of church and state and guarantee that all people are treated equally under civil marriage laws. This is not only humane and fair but is also the only way our government can meet its responsibility under the Constitution.

We think the time will come soon when we look back on the days when gay marriage was illegal as the days before we, as a people, came to our senses.