Proposition 8, titled “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry,” would strike down the California Supreme Court’s May 2008 ruling that same-sex couples do have a right to marry under the California Constitution. It would seek an amendment to the state constitution that would permanently outlaw same-sex marriage and effectively close the door on the issue without a realistic path for redress.

As a straight person, some people wonder why I care so much about this issue. That’s exactly my point. Most people making any noise about this issue are either gay or oppose same-sex marriage because they perceive it as an affront to tradition, religion, or the so-called sanctity of marriage. That’s not a fair fight. As Americans, protecting the rights of our citizens is a responsibility that falls on all our shoulders, no matter how distant the issue may seem from our own circumstances. It’s time for heterosexual, non-prejudiced people to stand up for our fellow citizens not because it’s in our self-interest or we have something personally at stake, but because it’s the right thing to do.

The sanctity of marriage depends upon the individuals involved in each union. It is not a term that can be unilaterally applied to the institution. There is nothing sacred about marriage as a whole; heterosexuals have abused it for millennia. This doesn’t mean we should continue to let the institution crumble. Rather, we should acknowledge that the sanctity of marriage is defined by how the individuals involved treat one another and how they approach their own commitment. If you allow others to express their love and commitment for one another, the sanctity of your own marriage will in no way be compromised. The sanctity of your marriage is determined by you and your partner, not by who is allowed to participate in the act and who is not.

Many people argue that marriage is a religious institution, and that legalizing same-sex marriage violates freedom of religion because most religions prohibit homosexuality. Perhaps marriage was once a religious tradition, but this is again not an all-inclusive term. Non-religious heterosexual couples can marry in or out of a church, with or without the blessing of a religious authority figure. If marriage were a religious institution, all non-religious marriages would be labeled civil unions. If others have non-religious marriages – as, indeed, they already do – your right to have a marriage that is founded on religion will not change.

Prop 8 supporters argue that failing to pass the measure would force religious institutions to perform same-sex marriages against their will and require students to learn about homosexuality in public schools. Neither of these claims are true. Churches are private institutions and the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that such groups are not required to condone homosexuality or accept homosexual members (Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 2000). Education programs will not be affected, but if you were truly concerned that your child was learning about “The Princess and the Princess,” California state law grants parents the right to remove their children from any health instruction they disagree with. Prop 8 seeks to eliminate same-sex marriage rights, not advance any other homosexual agenda. If it does not pass, things will stay exactly as they are right now pending further legislation.

If you are straight, this measure won’t affect you or me. We’ll still be able to marry our spouses of choice and we have no legitimate reason to deny others the same privilege. This is our generation’s civil rights movement. Don’t be the bigots of your children’s and grandchildren’s history books. Bigot is a harsh word, but to say that you “like” or are “okay with” gay people, but don’t think they should enjoy the same rights that you do is most certainly bigotry. Our responsibility as citizens is to make the world better for each and every generation, and to bring more freedom and happiness to as many people as possible. Try to look beyond your own narrow personal experience and realize there are other people out there with the same hopes and dreams and with every human right to pursue them. You don’t have to do anything except get out of the way.