The fight for civil rights has long been a battle that has been a part of our country's history from the moment the U.S. Constitution was signed and adopted.

Decade after decade, the struggles have been well documented. Americans fought for their independence from the taxes and tyranny of British rule.

Black slaves struggled for centuries to earn the freedom and everyday rights many Americans take for granted today, like citizenship and the right to vote. Women have also faced similar struggles that, it could be argued, still exist today.

But right now, our country finds itself in the midst of yet another civil rights battle, this time involving men and women of all color. I am speaking, of course, about the issue of gay marriage.

Recently, Iowa and Vermont announced that they would be joining Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing couples of the same sex to marry. This would allow those individuals to receive the same recognition and benefits from their respective states as any other married couple.

The District of Columbia also recognizes same sex marriages from other jurisdictions, though it does not allow those types of unions itself.

I applaud the stance these states have taken in regards to the issue of same sex marriage. This nation, after all, was founded on the foundation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, not just a select few.

The idea that couples should not be allowed to enjoy the privilege and honor of marriage simply because of their sexual orientation seems to be against the very principles of freedom hundreds of thousands of men and women have fought and died for throughout our nation's bloody history.

The decisions made by Iowa and Vermont are big victories for gay and lesbian couples around the nation who have long fought for the right to be recognized as equally as their heterosexual counterparts, but have long faced opposition from many who claim marriage to be solely between a man and a woman.

Arguments against same sex unions have also varied, with some claiming heterosexual couple make better parents and others saying that prohibiting same sex unions encourages more heterosexual couples to marry. I myself know a few same sex couples, two of which are raising children they adopted and whom they absolutely adore. So, the first argument doesn't stand in my book. The second doesn't really warrant a response.

But I'm not going to say that my beliefs should be everyone else's. I may believe that gay and lesbian couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples, but others may not agree, and that's fine. What I am saying is the rights given to these couples should not be based on religious or personal beliefs, but rather the rule of law.

Denying these rights to same sex couples is a clear violation of our nation's Constitution, much the same way past civil rights cases ruled that slavery was morally wrong and women deserved the right to vote and own property.

The road to that ultimate goal of equality for same sex couples is a long one, though. The Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, prevents such unions from being recognized by the federal government, even if states choose to do so. So far, only four of our nation's 50 allow gay marriage.

But the future does have a glimmer of hope for same sex couples. President Barack Obama ran on a platform that included a full repeal of the DOMA, and has even reached out to gay and lesbian rights groups. And it's possible that within the next few months, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New York and New Hampshire may well enact their own same sex marriage laws.

Until that time, gay and lesbian couples will have to take solace in the fact that finally, after years of opposition and persecution, this nation's tide may be turning in their favor.

Tim Olmeda is the news editor for the Nueces County Record Star. Readers may contact him via e-mail at news@recordstar.com.