The email turned out to be a cute invitation to visit the Task Force website to vote for April’s Worst Fool, out of a list of LGBT rights opponents including Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Fred Phelps and more.

Still, it’s telling that the Task Force chose marriage equality for their fake headline, instead of another LGBT issue like employment discrimination or hate crimes. Supporters of the Task Force tend to trend to the left in the LGBT rights movement, including many who may argue that marriage is too traditional and mainstream, and shouldn’t be at the top of the so-called “gay agenda.”

Yet Task Force leaders know gay marriage is the topic most likely to inspire us to open their email. Regardless of whether you personally want to marry, whether you think marriage is an oppressive heterosexist institution, or where you think it belongs on the list of priorities, marriage equality is the defining civil rights issue for lesbian and gay people. Only overturning sodomy laws, a battle that ended with the landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, came close.

Here’s why: What defines us as a minority, a culture, a distinct group, is whom we love. Denying gay people the right to marry — the highest status our society grants to loving relationships — strikes at the heart of who we are. It sends the message that we are inferior, unworthy and undeserving.

The California Supreme Court hit on just this idea in 2008, in a landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage that was later overturned by voters through Proposition 8. Explaining why even “civil unions” aren’t enough, the court wrote:

“Retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise — now emphatically rejected by this state — that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects ‘second-class citizens’ who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.”

Not just a mere collection of individual rights, marriage is a collective statement about whether our relationships, and thus we as gay people, are worthy of respect, liberty and justice.

More than just saying “I do,” marriage is about saying “we are.”

To be certain, we face discrimination in many different ways. We may be bullied, targeted for violence, fired from our jobs. But it is the belief that lesbian and gay people are “second class citizens,” and that there is something wrong with who and how we love, that fuels the widespread bias against us in other areas.

No wonder some people think it is acceptable to fire us or beat us up: why should they have to treat gay people fairly, when the government doesn’t?

Legalizing same-sex marriage around the country won’t automatically end anti-gay discrimination. But it will stop giving an official stamp of approval to the idea that we are inferior, and we can hope that with time, that message will move from the halls of government to the streets of middle America.

It will likely take decades or longer, as women and African Americans well know, but it can’t happen as long as our laws still say that discriminating against gay people is ok.

“Trickle down” economics didn’t work, but trickle-down equality may be the only thing that will.

Of course, you don’t need a marriage license to love someone and commit to building your lives together. That’s why our first GA Voice Wedding Issue includes ways to get involved in the fight for marriage equality, but also plenty of inspiring stories and useful advice for planning your wedding right here at home.

Whether you tie the knot in a formal venue or a backyard potluck, publicly declaring your love sends a powerful message — both personally and politically.

We’re listening.

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