Gerald Gafford, right, comforts his partner of 28 years, Jeff...

Gerald Gafford, right, comforts his partner of 28 years, Jeff Sralla, left, as they stand before Judge Amy Clark Meachum to receive obtain a time waiver at the Travis County Courthouse after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Credit: AP / Eric Gay

The big day finally arrived.

Congratulations to the activists who fought in the streets, the legislatures and the courts to end this vestige of discrimination. A toast to those who quietly and patiently made the case for acceptance and equality in their everyday lives.

We as a nation are now closer to being one.

The decision was inevitable. The U.S. Supreme Court was well along the path to the day when it would recognize same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Justice Antonin Scalia angrily predicted as much in 2003, when the court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas. In that case, he wrote in his dissent, "What justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples?"

There was no justification. All that was needed was time. When would a majority of justices feel comfortable that a majority of the nation was ready to embrace, if not celebrate, same-sex marriage?

On Friday, history was made. Paul Smith, the lawyer who won the Texas case 12 years ago to the day, was in the courtroom when Justice Anthony Kennedy read the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.

Kennedy, a Catholic and a Republican who was appointed because he would be a judicial conservative, was the author of that threshold 2003 decision, which ushered in an era of tolerance and respect for gays. It was no surprise that he again led the court forward.

Kennedy rejected the idea that the nation needed more time and debate. He was right. Polls showed a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage and most anticipated this outcome. "Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process," Kennedy wrote in Friday's decision.

Most important, Kennedy said, the long debate made many realize that the right to marry was a basic one protected by the Constitution, not one subject to the currents of popular opinion that could make marriage legal in most states but not in others. These new insights and societal understandings, Kennedy wrote, "reveal unjustified inequality within fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged."

He spoke directly to the minority's view that same-sex marriage undermines the "traditional" union between a man and a woman and diminishes it as an underpinning of our society.

As Kennedy so movingly wrote in the majority opinion, "Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Despite the political plums in denouncing the court ruling and promises to avenge the decision that will be heard in the presidential election, the truth is the battle for marriage equality is won. It's over. Yet difficult fights remain over how to mesh this right with the rights of those whose religious beliefs oppose sanctioning it.

The First Amendment protects clergy and congregations from being forced to perform weddings. But what happens when someone claims that religious beliefs allow him or her to refuse services or products, such as a wedding cake? Is that discrimination against gay people?

The scope of these protections will be the next frontier for gay rights, and it may take decades before we come to an understanding of these boundaries. And, perhaps once again, time will be on the side of tolerance and acceptance.