Homophobia is plainly our society’s last acceptable prejudice. Forgive the profanity, but the point needs to be made: upon hearing the words “kike,” “nigger” or “spic,” open-mouthed horror immediately ensues. But at Friday night’s party, count how many times you hear the word fag, which, to homosexuals, has the same razor-edged ring of hate. Anti-homosexual bigotry is cut from the same cloth as racism: hostility directed at an entire group on the basis of an innate characteristic.

This in mind, the resistance to gay marriage today is analogous to the resistance to the equal-rights demands of blacks and women in days past. Marriage has, until recently, never been understood in America as anything but the sacrosanct union of man and woman. For this reason, opponents of same-sex marriage can claim that allowing it would fundamentally alter – no, corrupt – the nature of the institution.

This point is understood, but it is far from clear how gay marriage detracts from the marriage of non-gays. Homosexuals are also American citizens, and they are being forbidden a legalized, life-long commitment as consenting adults whose doing so does no harm to anyone else.

If only the sanctity spoken of existed in the first place. It is wrong that Britney Spears can go to Las Vegas to arrange a 48-hour marriage while gay couples devoted to a life together are denied this. Gay couples might consecrate the institution of marriage more than Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra, or the other ex-members of the 40 percent of marriages that have resulted in divorce. Marriage is a legal, social and personal commitment between two people, and gays meet these criteria as well as heterosexuals.

I am proud to come from the city where in recent weeks over 2,000 couples have received certificates of marriage. At the same time, gay marriage rights must be achieved through legal means – what’s happening in San Francisco is an important call to action, but it is no solution. It opens the door to similar acts of rebellion, though for decidedly different causes. Many applaud Gavin Newsom’s audacity, but what happens if a conservative mayor in Salt Lake City decides, regardless of state or federal law, to ban abortions? The rule of law is the rule of law.

Speaking of the law, however, it is wrong and drastic for President Bush to call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Not only is it tampering with a sacred document for particularist reasons, it would shamefully enshrine intolerance. When Bush entered the fray over gay marriage, it kicked off a culture war in earnest. Many people are concerned – gays and lesbians included – about amplifying the issue in such a way. For like abortion and homosexuality in general, there is simply no middle ground. It is an issue rooted in deep personal beliefs, and it can never be decisively resolved.

And it doesn’t have to be. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality is essentially indecent – polls show that gay marriage is opposed by half of all Democrats and most conservatives. The beliefs of these millions of Americans must be respected. But to say that they have the right to disapprove of homosexuality is not the same thing as saying that they have the right to deny homosexuals permission to marry. This is why we should be grateful for our federal system, which seems to offer the best solution: Instead of having this irresolvable issue divide the country, let each state decide on whether to allow gay marriage.

Daily Nexus columnist Joey Tartakovsky thinks each state should individually pick chocolate or vanilla as its favorite, too.