I don't know what caused President Obama's evolution on gay marriage; I do know when I changed my own attitude.

It was a couple of years ago when Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment making same-sex marriage illegal. Since state law already made such marriage illegal, the amendment amounted to little more than a bigoted insult – but adopted it.

Up until that point, I was typically wishy-washy on the subject. It seemed to me that the real goal should be equal legal rights for gay and lesbian people, that they should have the same rights to hospital visitation, inheritance and tax treatment as heterosexuals.

Since the actual word "marriage" caused such discomfort to many straight folks, I was willing to reject the equally passionate feelings of a growing number of gay and lesbian folk that they should be able to "marry."

The thing about the Wisconsin marriage amendment, however, was that it didn't just outlaw same sex marriage, it also outlawed civil unions that would promote those legal rights I so favored.

More than a half-century after the Supreme Court ruled schools cannot really be separate but equal, it finally dawned on me that "separate" is never "equal." The purpose of the Wisconsin amendment was to keep gays and lesbians in their place and their place was deemed to be a place of inequality.

The recently adopted amendment in North Carolina is even more specific. It takes away from gays and lesbians legal rights they may already enjoy.

I first started learning about these issues in 1966, when I lived in Brooklyn Heights, New York, a beautiful community of brownstones that had been brought back from slum death by an influx of gay and lesbian citizens. At that time, the question wasn't whether gays should be allowed to marry – no one was talking in those terms back then – but whether they should be allowed to join our churches.

Most of my neighbors were gay. . .I guess. I really never saw any of the foppish stereotypes promoted by "Will and Grace," the sitcom that Vice President Biden likes so well. The only difference between them and me is that they liked to watch football on television and I liked to read on Sunday afternoons.

One thing was clear even then: My neighbors were no threat to western civilization or to Christian values. To the contrary, they upheld the civilization and values of our neighborhood.

The whole country has evolved since then. I don't think anyone seriously thinks a loving relationship between two men or between two women is a threat to "marriage."

Non-serious people like Rush Limbaugh, who has proved his fidelity to the notion of traditional marriage by engaging in four of them, try to stir up trouble. But I don't think Limbaugh believes a word of what he says and I don't think Mitt Romney does, either.

One thing is clear to me: We won't forever endure a situation when married men and women enjoy something like 1,000 legal privileges not open to those who aren't married. Either we will change our definition of marriage or we will strip those special rights from everyone, heterosexual or homosexual.

It would just be a lot easier if we would give up the bigotry.