Many years ago, when I was in economic low-water (i.e. unemployed) an act of kindness from a man named Bernie changed forever my perception on one branch of the human race.

Bernie owned a dinner theatre which doubled as a restaurant, and he occasionally hired me to wait on tables and perform other odd jobs. Bernie could only offer a free meal or a few dollars in exchange for those services, but I was so desperate for cash in those days that I gratefully accepted whatever tidbits he could afford to throw my way.

Bernie's main profession was teaching, and there were times I would bring in a story or two that I was working on to edit and polish before submitting it for publication. Bernie would often look at my work and offer words of encouragement and advice - something I deeply appreciated given the facts things were so going so rough for me at the time.

One day, I was talking to a mutual acquaintance, who mentioned almost off-handedly that one Bernie's best sources of income at his establishment were a regular series of transvestite balls which catered to the area's gay community. This took me by surprise, and then a thought struck me which my friend confirmed when I asked him - namely, that Bernie himself was gay.

My reaction, when I heard the news, was "Well now, ain't that a kick in the head!" Up until that point, I had been very much against homosexuality in my thinking. But Bernie's kindness to me during a hard period in my life caused me to do a 180-degree in my outlook.

Up until that point, I'd had the impression that all gays displayed certain patterns of behavior which indicated their sexual preferences. For men, it was acting in a stereo-typical lispy, limp-wristed, effeminate - and for me, irritating - manner. Bernie was none of these things, showing me that my thinking was in error. He was just a nice, kind person who helped me out as much as he could because I was down on my luck.

A few years later, I read with interest an article about the causes of homosexuality. Research conducted by scientists and medical personnel had revealed that a person's mental makeup - which often occurs while said person is developing in the womb - determines his or her sexual preferences. Up until that point, I thought that all people were homosexual by choice. But instead, according to what I've read, which has been confirmed on numerous occasions, a great many people do not chose to be homosexual, instead it is homosexuality which chooses them.

I'm not the only person who has made such a mistake in life, of course. One of the most famous examples occurred in Great Britain during the 19th century. The British Parliament approved a bill which banned homosexuality throughout the empire. The bill was sent to Queen Victoria, who upon reading it, struck out all references to women. When someone protested the queen's actions, she replied tartly that "women just don't such things." By her actions, Victoria made homosexuality illegal for men in Britain, but allowed it to remain legal for women.

Incidentally, although it's more commonly applied to men, the term "homosexual" can also be applied just as legitimately to women. The misconception comes because many people believe the "homo" portion of the word comes from the Latin, meaning "man," such as "homosapien" (thinking man). This is incorrect. It actually comes from the Greek word meaning "the same" such as "homogeneous." So people who are homosexual are people - men and women - who prefer their own gender.

This long introduction now leads up to me addressing a situation which, for our society, has been an "elephant in the living room" for some time, namely do gay people have the right to marry and enjoy the benefits available to all heterosexual couples who engage in matrimony. Over the past few years, that elephant has been trumpeting louder and louder, and I'm going to add my voice to it by stating here that - given what I have learned and experienced - I believe yes they do and the time has come to allow it.

I know there are going to be many who vehemently disagree with this. Some will quote Leviticus and other sections of the Bible in support of their position. That's their right, but such things do not impress me. It's been my experience that the Bible can be used support any person's point of view, no matter how wrong it might be. During the Civil War, many Southern lawmakers and ministers cited certain Biblical passages that supported slavery to bolster their arguments as to why God was on their side. Today, anyone in this country who attempts to use the Bible as an excuse to keep someone in slavery is not going impress the legal system, believe me.

There's a Biblical passage about women keeping silent in church. If we take it to heart, then that means a lot of female ministers I've know over the years have been going against the Lord's will. There's even a section in Judges about a human sacrifice being carried out in the name of the Lord. But no one today could use that passage to legally commit such a horrible act.

I believe that we're all brothers and sisters under the skin - homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. As such, I also believe that homosexuals deserve the same civil rights and protections under the law - marriage included - that heterosexual couples have enjoyed throughout the history of civilization.