November was a tough month for gay rights in this country. Despite an election that ushered in a Democratic Congress and this country’s first black president, states from California to Florida passed ballot initiatives that curtailed gay rights, especially the right to same-sex marriage. But in the past week, in Iowa, Vermont and Washington D.C., gay rights advocates scored a triple victory in their fight to end discrimination in this country. The rest of the states in this country — including our own state of Michigan — need to recognize the fact that outlawing same-sex marriage is discriminatory, backward and, frankly, wrong.

The importance of last week for gay rights can’t be overstated. In three different regions of this country, through three different means, the right to same-sex marriage — the primary goal of many gay rights activists — was affirmed. On Friday, Iowa’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision to remove a longstanding law against same-sex marriage. Then, on Tuesday, the Vermont state legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto and passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage — the first such legislation in the country. The same day, the Washington D.C. City Council voted to recognize all same-sex marriages approved in other states.

The denial of equal rights for same-sex couples is one of the last vestiges of apparent discrimination against a group of people in this country. While other types of discrimination undoubtedly exist, almost no other discrimination is so shamelessly perpetuated by government and codified in law. Visitation rights for injured partners, tax benefits and family health care are all rights denied to same-sex couples simply because they are gay. Like the Jim Crow laws that denied blacks some of these same rights, laws that deny same-sex couples recognition as equals in our society are blatantly discriminatory.

Though far from completely eliminating this inequality, last week’s developments made quite a dent and are worth celebrating in that regard. But they also highlight how much more needs to be done.

Michigan is one such bastion for discrimination. In 2004, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in this state. Since then, Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox and state Supreme Court have used that amendment as a blank check to discriminate against gay people, incorrectly interpreting the amendment to take away state employees’ ability to receive benefits for their partners. This flagrant abuse of power has affected everyone in the state, including employees at the University of Michigan, who can still receive benefits for a gay partner only because the University has stretched the law to find a loophole.

In states like Michigan, these discriminatory laws have to go. Though the courts have typically led the way in this fight (with Vermont being the lone state in which a legislature has had the courage to act), citizens need to be at the forefront of this movement. In fact, they have an obligation to do so. When discrimination exists right beneath one’s nose, there’s no excuse for allowing it to continue. When history looks back on these laws, they will be understood the same way we now understand the blatantly discriminatory Jim Crow laws.

That’s a place in history neither Iowa, Vermont nor Washington D.C. want. Neither should Michigan. Or this country.

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