One thing that’s troubling about the American political system today is its lack of options. Under our current system, it is unrealistic to expect one of the two parties to have a monopoly on good ideas. The reality is that there’s room for reasonable people across the political spectrum to disagree on many of the political and moral issues facing America today. Often there aren’t a lot of easy answers.

Most of the time, that is.

If there is one area that does have a simple, common-sense solution, it’s the issue of gay marriage and gay rights. This may be one of the only issues facing America today where half of the political spectrum is virtually dead wrong.

Federal law currently provides more than 1,000 benefits and protections to married couples, including hospital visitation rights, child custody and health and retirement benefits. Wisconsin provides an additional 200 legal protections to married couples under state law. In November 2006, Wisconsin, which has a motto of “Forward,” became the 14th state in the nation to effectively ban gay marriage and civil unions.

Above all, gay rights are a question of civil rights and human dignity. We pride ourselves here in America as being the first country to officially recognize that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But at every point since Jefferson penned those words in 1776, there have been certain groups who’ve found these rights lacking — not because of anything they’ve done, but simply because of who they are.

It took far too long for women and racial minorities to be effectively considered equal under the law in this country; many would argue that we still have a ways to go. But we’ve made progress in those areas. Witness the uproar surrounding Dr. James Watson’s comments about black people being genetically inferior a few weeks ago, for example.

Meanwhile, gays and lesbians could very well be the last remaining group facing blatant discrimination by a majority of Americans.

Author Sam Harris in his 2004 book, “The End of Faith,” says, “It is time we realized that crimes without victims are like debts without creditors. They do not even exist. Any person who lies awake at night worrying about the private pleasures of other consenting adults has more than just too much time on his hands; he has some unjustifiable beliefs about the nature of right and wrong.”

All of the seven major candidates running for president in 2008 say they are personally not OK with gay marriage. While the top three Democratic candidates all believe discrimination based on sexual orientation should be outlawed in the workplace and support full equality in civil unions, the same can’t be said for the Republicans. Rudy Giuliani supports “domestic partnerships” and equal rights under the law, but Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain all have said they are personally against any sort of civil unions.

Why? Because it makes some people uncomfortable? Because it’s forbidden in some interpretations of the Bible? I find it ironic that we as a nation are undergoing enormous sacrifices taking on theocracies in the Middle East in order to spread democracy, and at the same time amending our state constitutions to discriminate against people based solely on who they are.

The truth is there are real, tangible benefits to having a marriage or union recognized by the government that should be available to all types of people. Religion doesn’t have a lot to do with it; the separation of church and state still exists in America. This goes both ways, no one is suggesting any denomination or religion be forced to perform any ceremonies they believe are immoral or wrong. You’d think this is something the free-market savvy Republican Party could get behind. Your church or religion starts condoning lifestyles you don’t agree with? Find another one! It really doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Nathan Braun ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in economics.