Outcast and underdog groups wage long struggles for acceptance and equality.
Black Americans strove for centuries -- first against slavery, then against segregation, and finally against subtle discrimination -- on their path to democratic rights.
Similarly, women campaigned for the right to vote, then the right to hold jobs and other hallmarks of fairness.
Now gays are waging the same effort for social progress, and they're winning, showdown after showdown.
Some gay couples filed a federal lawsuit to wipe out West Virginia's law against same-sex marriage, and U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has ruled that they may proceed to trial. We hope they succeed.
"Every day that same-sex couples in West Virginia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that they are second-class citizens and their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect," a lawyer for the gay and lesbian couples said.
The U.S. Census Bureau says West Virginia has nearly 3,000 same-sex couples, 500 of them with children -- but state law forbids them to marry.
Back in 2000, supported by fundamentalists, legislators passed a law saying only male-female couples may wed. Ever since, some Republicans and evangelical groups have sought to lock the prohibition into the state constitution, but Democrats in the Legislature have resisted.
Across America, morality is evolving rapidly, and many states are letting same-sex couples marry. We assume that this social change is unstoppable. It's just a matter of time until the whole nation recognizes gay rights. Rural, conservative places like the Mountain State lag behind the rest of the country -- but even they can't escape the tide of history. Fairness and equality will come.
"I think that West Virginians, regardless of their religious views, have a deep and ingrained sense of fairness, so that when they are exposed to the fact there is a fundamental unfairness in the state, they will want to rectify that," another lawyer for the petitioners said.
Gays have come a long way since the era a half-century ago when they were thrown into prison because of their different sexual orientation. But they haven't yet gained complete human rights.
For example, they still may be fired from jobs or evicted from apartments with impunity. But the Legislature is pondering a pair of bills -- House Bill 2858 and Senate Bill 472 -- to add gays to the state human rights law and halt this discrimination. We hope the reform passes.
It's unfair to deny gays rights that are available to others, consigning them to lower status. We can't predict the outcome of either the marriage suit or the human rights change -- but we assume that gays eventually will win full legal equality everywhere, just as blacks and women did.