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Commentary: Marriage equality promotes equality, prosperity

In the month since we launched Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a bipartisan, national coalition of mayors from across the nation who have come together to support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, a lot has happened.

In the last few weeks alone, marriage bills have passed state legislatures in Washington, New Jersey and Maryland. Advocates for marriage in Maine have collected enough signatures to allow a ballot measure this November that, when passed, would extend the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples. Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that stripped gay and lesbian couples of the freedom to marry in California, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court and a U.S. district court judge ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

As Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, we have been making the case for marriage across the nation, helping to secure these victories where possible, and engaging new mayors in this effort. Since launching this program we have more than doubled the number of mayors across the nation, from 75 to now more than 175. And while we represent many different towns and cities from all four corners of America, we are united in our commitment to the basic principles of fairness and equality and we all agree that the time to end the exclusion of loving, committed gay and lesbian couples from marriage is long overdue.

Our support for marriage is not just a matter of principle. It is also a matter of prosperity. Cities that cultivate diversity are the places where creativity and ideas thrive. They are the places where today's entrepreneurs are most likely to build the businesses of tomorrow. Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry enhances our ability to create these kinds of creative, dynamic communities.

In Boston, where gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry for more than seven years, it has been an important benefit to the city's economy. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the freedom to marry has encouraged same-sex couples to move to the city, in particular young, highly educated individuals - members of what has been called the "creative class" - who are vital to economic development in a post-industrial economy.

In New York, where same-sex couples have only been able to marry for a short time, we have already seen the benefits. Welcoming committed gay couples to the rights and responsibilities of marriage is resulting in an even more diverse, dynamic and forward-looking city.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, our gay and lesbian citizens had the opportunity to marry for four-and-a-half months in 2008 before the passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that amended the California Constitution and banned same-sex marriage. During that brief time, 18,000 couples married in California.

State by state, we're gaining momentum. Unfortunately, these couples -- people who share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage at the state and city level -- are discriminated against by the federal government. DOMA denies legally married same-sex couples the same security afforded to other married couples in America. It excludes these couples from more than 1,100 federal responsibilities and protections, including Social Security and health care benefits.

This treatment is unacceptable, and it is un-American. The federal government should respect the states that have embraced the freedom to marry, not discriminate against their citizens. We urge our elected colleagues at the federal level to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA and ensure that all loving, committed couples are able to benefit from the protections and privileges of marriage.

Across party lines, the American public is recognizing that same-sex couples who are committed to one another for better or for worse should be able to express that devotion through marriage.

America is on a journey toward greater acceptance of groups once left behind. Ending marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian couples is just one more step on that steady march toward a more perfect union. The freedom to marry is above politics. It's a basic human right and supporting it is simply the right thing to do.

This commentary was submitted by the five chairs of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry: Annise Parker, mayor of Houston; Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City; Thomas M. Menino, mayor of Boston; Jerry Sanders, mayor of San Diego; and Antonio R. Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles.