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Gay Rights

From dKosopedia

Gay Rights is a commonly used term to refer to the movement to end legal and social discrimination against non-heterosexuals (male and female homosexuals and bisexuals) and often includes issues surrounding the eliminations of other forms of gender discrimination, particularly those which impact transgendered people.



Disputed by some as overrated in terms of change or effect, but unquestionably one of the most visible and notable milestones of the modern gay-rights movement. A sweltering summer in 1969 and fatigue at continual, violent police raids of a gay bar, called the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall raid started out just like any other raid on a gay bar but suddenly led to a strong, angry uprising by gays, bisexuals and transgenders who had normally stayed in the shadows. In the aftermath, and growing partially out of the women's and the black-pride movements, gay and lesbian organizations were formed in numerous cities, states, countries, devoted to fighting for the rights that had once been considered impossible to attain. [1]

Harvey Milk

A martyr and hero in the gay-rights movement. He was born in 1930 as Glimpy Milch. After high school and college, he joined the Navy, advancing to chief petty officer before he was discharged for being gay. He moved to San Francisco in the early 70's and quickly turned the Castro district into a thriving, vibrant community. Harvey believed in equality, not tolerance, and refused to accept the notion that gays should expect straight allies to do their work for them. After several years as a successful political activist he won a seat to the SF Board of Supervisors (on his fourth try) in 1977. His tenure was noted as fighting for civil rights and against the national anti-gay feeding frenzy caused by zealots like Anita Bryant; in 1978, he gained statewide renown for helping to defeat the Bryant-inspired Proposition 6, which would have required schools to fire gay teachers.

In November 1978, Harvey and SF mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a Board of Supervisors member who had resigned after enactment of a gay rights bill. Despite the premeditated nature of the crime, White was convicted only of manslaughter due to a "reduced mental capacity" defense, often derisively referred to as the "Twinkie defense", in which White's consumption of junk food was used as evidence of an abnormal mental state; the lenient verdict prompted mass protests culminating in the "White Night Riots". White committed suicide in 1984.

Harvey's legacy has not been forgotten. Since his untimely murder, San Francisco has emerged as a city where gays and straights alike work for equality and respect.

Marriage and other legal recognition of couples


The struggle for equality of marriage rights for same-gender couples was long considered to be achievable only in the far future, and the backlash against several court victories in the 1990s (leading to the Defense of Marriage Act) reinforced this impression. However, in the 2000s a new round of court challenges, as well as independent actions by local governments, has brought unexpectedly rapid progress on this front. The issue continues to be a rallying point for the right wing, which is now pushing a Federal Marriage Amendment. See same-gender marriage.

Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts are currently the only states that permit legal same-gender marriage, though same-gender marriage will become legal in Vermont on September 1, 2009, and in Maine on September 14, 2009. Furthermore, New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, and the District of Columbia has voted to do so as well. Some other states and many localities recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. There is currently cases working their way through the Oregon courts stemming from Multnomah County issuing same-gender marriage licenses in early 2004. The county has ceased issuing them, pending the outcome of the cases. Oregon, along with 10 other states passed ballot measures banning same-gender marriages on the state level.

Civil Rights

Although the Stonewall riots in 1969 are often cited as the start of the gay-rights movement in America, it is more accurate to date the political struggle for LGBT civil rights from the early 1950s. In 1951, Greenberg published The Homosexual in America by Donald Webster Cory, which was the first book to argue that gays and lesbians were a persecuted minority in America. This was also the period in which a distinct LGBT literature began to emerge, with such early works as Richard Meeker's The Better Angel (Greenberg, 1933), Nial Kent's The Divided Path (Greenberg, 1949) and James Barr's Quatrefoil (Greenberg, 1950).

As Cory was writing his book in New York, on the west coast Harry Hay and some friends were writing the founding principles of the Mattachine Society, the first modern gay-rights organization in America. Partly because of a perceived male bias in the Mattachine Society, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, with six other women, founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian-rights group, in San Francisco in 1955. (Historical note: On February 12, 2004, Martin and Lyon were among the first gay and lesbian couples to receive marriage licenses in San Francisco, in defiance of California law.)

The first state to repeal its sodomy laws was Illinois in 1961, although that decision was part of an overall legal reform that resulted in the adoption of a model system that did not include a statute prohibiting sodomy and was not a conscious choice made by the Illinois General Assembly. From that point on, slowly but usually steadily, and with occasional episodes of "one step forward, two steps back," the states began to repeal laws on their books that criminalized sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender (or were forced to repeal those laws by state or federal court decisions).

Probably the first chink in the legal armor came in 1965, when the Supreme Court found, in Griswold v. Connecticut, that although the Constitution does not specifically mention it, there is nevertheless a "penumbral" right to privacy. In other words, the Constitution guarantees that the government is not automatically entitled to interfere or to inquire into the private matters of its citizens unless it can demonstrate that it has some reasonable interest to protect that the private conduct in question threatens. The issue addressed in Griswold was state laws prohibiting the sale or use of contraceptives, so it is hardly surprising that this decision would later be cited in cases addressing the question of whether the state had any business prohibiting consensual sex.

The next major decision was Loving v. Virginia in 1967. This ruling struck down a Virginia law prohibiting inter-racial marriages, and declared marriage to be "one of the basic civil rights of man," which suggests that it will play a prominent role in any future challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

In the early 1980s, the growing epidemic of AIDS in the United States, which disproportionately affected the gay male population gave a new urgency to the gay rights movement spawning groups such as ACT-UP which pushed many gays who had been content to live quietly in the Closet to become politically active as a matter of personal and community survival.

The first time the Supreme Court specifically addressed the question of gay rights was in 1986's Bowers v. Hardwick. The Court's majority opinion in that case found that gay and lesbian Americans had no defensible constitutional right to private consensual sex, and was the subject of considerable controversy at the time. A 1987 letter to Playboy magazine famously quipped, "Isn't it a violation of the Georgia sodomy law for the Supreme Court to have its head up its ass?" Some activists claim that the Bowers decision unwittingly galvanized gay activists and prepared them for even tougher battles ahead.

The broader question of specifically civil rights (and not just the right for consenting adults to have sex in private) arose in the early 1990s in response to an amendment to the Colorado constitution that narrowly passed in November 1992. Amendment 2 was designed to strike from the books all local ordinances (such as those passed by the residents of Denver and Boulder) and executive orders that granted protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and prohibited the introduction or passage of any similar laws or orders in the future. The amendment was immediately challenged in court, and the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional in Romer v. Evans in 1996, saying "Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws."

In 2003, with the Lawrence v. Texas decision, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling struck down sodomy laws nationwide on the basis of equal protection and due process under the 14th amendment. This ruling also overturned the precedent set by Bowers v. Hardwick and established a basic right to private consensual sex, finding "no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual."

In February 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts struck down as unconstitutional a state ban gay marriage in the case of HILLARY GOODRIDGE & others vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH & another. They also ruled civil unions to be insufficient, forcing the state legislature to either enact gay marriages or pass an amendment to ban them (which was attempted but failed in the state senate). Same-gender marriage in Massuchusetts began on May 17th, 2004.

In response, George Walker Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, which, if passed, would mark the first time the Constitution has ever been amended to reduce a group's rights (aside from the disaster of Prohibition, which eliminated the right of Americans to drink alcohol until it was repealed in 1932). The amendment states, "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman." A vote for cloture in the senate failed to attain the necessary 60 votes, effectively shelving the amendment without a final vote until the next session of Congress. Byrd (D-WV), Miller (D-GA) and Nelson (D-NE) were the only Democrats who voted for cloture. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-ME), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), John McCain (R-AZ), Ben Campbell (R-CO) and, surprisingly, John Sununu (R-NH) were the only Republicans to vote against cloture. John Kerry and John Edwards ducked the vote, claiming it was a mere procedural issue.

As of May 2004, there is no federal law protecting the civil rights of gay and lesbian people. In thirty seven states it is still legal under both state and federal law to fire someone because they are gay, deny someone housing because of their sexual orientation, or refuse to serve a lesbian in a restaurant. A dozen states and a couple hundred cities have enacted state and local statutes to prohibit such discrimination, but the bills to extend this equal protection to the entire country have been blocked by the Republican leadership in Congress.

The states that have civil rights laws (PDF) are California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Vermont, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Rhode Island.

Other Countries

Canada has a strong record on gay rights. Same-gender marriages are legal in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. The Netherlands was the first nation to legalize same-gender marriages. Belgium was the second country. Many other nations (mostly in Europe, but also Israel and Brazil) have some recognition of same-gender partnerships. In August 2004, in a major victory for George Bush's Ozzie clone, Prime Minister John Howard, Australia outlawed same-sex marriage.

GLBT politicians

Having openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender politicians in office is crucial in terms of creating a national platform for gay rights as well as for the chance of building relationships with legislators who may normally veer towards ignorance or outright hatred. In 1987, there were 20 openly GLBT politicians in the country. As of November 2003 the number had risen to 245, ranging from state senators in Kentucky (Ernesto Scorsone), Colorado Jennifer Veiga and Massachusetts (Jarrett Barrios) to state reps in Utah (Jackie Biskupski), Georgia (Karla Drenner) and Virginia (Adam Ebbin), and even a South Dakota man who plans to become a transsexual after leaving office. The Senate Majority Leader in Oregon, Kate Brown, is bisexual, and Rhode Island's House Majority Leader, Gordon Fox, came out in March 2004.

The first openly gay candidate to run for public office was Jose Sarria (San Francisco, 1961). The first to win was Kathy Kozachenko for the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council, in 1974. The first state legislators to come out were both in 1974 -- Elaine Noble (Massachusetts) in 1974 and Allan Spears (Minnesota) in 1974. Both stayed closeted during their initial run for office. Barbara retired 2 terms later, fatigued at being the "gay" representative, but Allan stayed in the state senate until retiring in 2000. There are a number of openly gay mayors; the largest town with such a mayor is David Cicilline of Providence, Rhode Island. The first openly gay politician to win a statewide race was Ed Flanagan, Vermont Auditor of Accounts. Elected in 1992, he came out in 1995 and was reelected in 1996 and 1998. Tony Miller, a volunteer firefighter and Vietnam veteran, was California's interim secretary of state in the early 90's, but was defeated in 1994 in an ugly gay-bashing campaign by Bill Jones.

Several members of Congress were involuntarily "outed" in the early 1980s. The first was a conservative Republican, Robert Bauman, who represented the First District of Maryland. He was caught up in an FBI pornography investigation which revealed he had solicited sexual favors from an underage nude dancer at a Washington gay bar in 1979-80. Charges were brought against Bauman in October 1980, and he lost his seat the next month. A bid to win re-election in 1982 also failed. Also outed were Gerry Studds in 1984 and Barney Frank in 1987. Both were Massachusetts Democrats, and both won reelection easily, as did the next two Republicans to come out, Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin in 1994 and Jim Kolbe of Arizona in 1996. Both were essentially outed by the media and their GOP colleagues. Jim remains in the House as of August, 2004 (but faces a far-right primary challenge). Newt Gingrich warned Gunderson, an incumbent of over 10 years who was in line to head a powerful House committee, that if he did not retire in '96, he would get a primary challenge. Gunderson retired; the district went Democratic and has stayed that way ever since. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, elected in 1998, is the first lesbian and the first GLBT member of Congress to be out of the closet during their run for office. Popular Florida rep. Mark Foley was involved in a lengthy quasi-outing scandal after he announced plans to run for the Senate. He adamantly denied he was gay (in spite of press reports outing him more than six years earlier), but quickly abandoned his bid for higher office. On August 30, 2004, Virginia Republican Congressman Ed Schrock abruptly resigned after an Internet website produced tape recordings of his requesting phone sex with other men.

In August 2004, New Jersey's Democratic governor James McGreevey shocked America by coming out of the closet, admitting to a homosexual affair, and resigning all in one press conference. Although he will only be in office up to November 2004, he is still the highest-ranking openly gay elected official in the United States.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has a list of the GLBT politicians in each state, and of the candidates being endorsed for what is likely to be a contentious and homophobic-invective-filled election year.

Hate Crimes

Currently, hate crimes laws in 28 states and the District of Columbia include crimes based on sexual orientation (PDF). Hate crimes laws in Georgia and Utah do not list categories. Neither federal hate crimes law nor hate crimes laws in 15 states include sexual orientation, and five states have no hate crimes law.

Gays in the Military

If we define "gay" to mean a person who is sexually attracted to or engages in sexual relations with a person of the same gender, then it is probably safe to say that there have been gays in the military as long as there has been a military in which they could serve. The Iliad of Homer describes the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in such a way that some scholars have argued (though this is not universally accepted) that they were not just close friends, but also lovers. The Sacred Band of Thebes was an elite infantry unit composed of 150 pairs of homosexual lovers, maintained at state expense, and founded ca. 379/8 BCE when the city of Thebes was liberated from Spartan occupation. The unit was annihilated by the forces of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. Tradition holds that Philip wept bitterly at the destruction of the Band, and ordered that the bodies of the slain be buried together in a common grave beneath a stone lion that he paid for personally.

Later, a quote was attributed to Sir Winston Churchill to the effect that the only traditions of Britain's Royal Navy were "rum, sodomy, and the lash." Churchill's assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne, said that "although Churchill had not said this, he wished he had."

The "problem" of gays serving in the military began to arise most noticeably during the Second World War. Prior to that time, the U.S. military neither excluded nor officially banned gay people from service. Instead, they focused on the crime of sodomy, which is still defined in Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as "unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal" and mandates court-martial for any person in the armed forces suspected of having engaged in it. (Note that while this article is almost exclusively applied against gay and lesbian service members, it technically applies to oral or anal sex between a man and a woman.) Anyone found guilty of sodomy was typically sent to a military prison or discharged (or both).

Responding to the psychoanalytic theories developed by Sigmund Freud, which treated homosexuality as a sickness and not a crime, the armed forces began a concerted effort to weed out gay and lesbian personnel from the armed forces, and to prevent (or at least discourage) them from enlisting or being inducted in the first place, on the grounds that they were mentally ill and thus unfit for service. These screening efforts, however, were notoriously unreliable and, in a situation that has consistently been repeated since then, as the military's manpower needs grew greater and greater as the war stretched onward, they found it necessary to recruit homosexuals.

This policy of lenience disappeared at the end of the war as the need for recruits decreased dramatically. The ban on service was continued during the Korean conflict, when, as part of the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, homosexuals were seen as security risks, and into the Vietnam War. It was during Vietnam, however, that the policy began to come under increasing criticism, both within and without the military. For one thing, the armed forces found more and more recruits who claimed to be gay. Some were being honest; others, apparently, were trying to get out of having to serve in an increasingly unpopular war. According to Randy Shilts' book Conduct Unbecoming (p. 154), "...a letter from a psychiatrist and a few hours of a lawyer's time was sometimes enough to do the trick [of getting out of induction on the grounds of being gay]. This allowed the Los Angeles Free Press to quantify the cost of a gay discharge at $350." Since the armed forces needed manpower, however, they were, according to Shilts, allowing "fewer and fewer gay deferments" (p. 153). Also, in 1970, the military loosened its policy on gay service members somewhat, allowing commanders to retain personnel despite being gay or lesbian, if their retention was "for the good of the service."

For another, there were beginning to be high-profile cases that were difficult to keep out of the press. One of the first such victims of the gay ban in the Vietnam era was Dr. Tom Dooley (not to be confused with the subject of the song of the same name made famous by the Kingston Trio), who was forced to resign from the Navy and given an undesirable discharge in 1956, in part because of homosexual behavior. Dooley died of cancer five years later, or he might have contested his discharge.

Then there was the peculiar case of Perry Watkins, who was inducted into the Army in 1967 despite admitting on his induction paperwork that he had "homosexual tendencies." He served three tours until new regulations initiated by the Reagan administration forced his discharge, over the protests of his superiors, in 1981. Watkins sued, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated him in 1989 since the military had knowingly allowed him to serve despite his admission of his homosexuality. President George H.W. Bush attempted to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, but they refused to take the case. Watkins was reinstated, and then retired from the Army with the rank of sergeant first class, and received retroactive pay and full retirement benefits, and an honorable discharge.

A more famous casualty of the gay ban in the Vietnam era was Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Jr., who served three tours in Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among other commendations. In March 1975, Matlovich, hoping to serve as a test case against the ban, wrote a letter to his commanding officer announcing that he was gay. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in October 1975, after his commander upgraded the paperwork from the general discharge recommended by the administrative board. A federal case was filed on his behalf by the ACLU. Although the lower court ruled against Matlovich, the appeals court ordered him reinstated with back pay in 1978 on a technicality. The Air Force offered a cash settlement if Matlovich would drop any further legal action and not seek to be reinstated. He took the deal.

The new Reagan-era policies were formally implemented in 1982, when the Office of the Secretary of Defense issued the following statement: "Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Armed Forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among the members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of members who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the military services; to maintain the public acceptability of military services; and, in certain circumstances, to prevent breaches of security." It is interesting to note that these were almost identical to the arguments presented in 1948 opposing President Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces.

Moreover, the military knew, or would soon discover, that many of the justifications it advanced for keeping gays and lesbians out of the military were specious. The PERSEREC Report confirmed what Perry Watkins' commanding officers (and many others before and since) had long known and already stated: gay and lesbian service personnel were frequently among the best and most valuable members of their units; discharging them made no sense according to military logic.

Apparently spurred in part by the brutal murder of Petty Officer 3/c Allen Schindler, presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 proposed issuing an executive order that would allow openly gay or lesbian persons to serve in the armed forces. Congress tried to enact the Reagan-era Pentagon policy into law in 1993 to prevent any future executive orders, but compromised with the White House and passed what is known as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" law.

Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass," gay and lesbian servicemembers are allowed to remain in the armed forces as long as they do not self-identify publicly as gay or lesbian, and do not engage in homosexual conduct. If they do admit to being gay (even in an online profile, for example) or if they are caught or observed in gay sex, or going into a gay bar, service members can be discharged from the military. The military itself is not supposed to ask about the sexual orientation of its members and, in theory, is supposed to limit its investigation of service members who have been outed. Neither is the military supposed to harass its members.

In practice, the military has winked at the "Don't Ask," "Don't Pursue," and "Don't Harass" provisions of the law. Despicable "witch-hunts" of the type repeatedly described by Shilts in Conduct Unbecoming are still occurring. As the SLDN website puts it, "Intrusive questioning continues. Harassment continues in epidemic proportions. Little regard for service member privacy has been shown during the life of this law. Simply put, asking, pursuing and harassing have continued for all of the ...years since the law was passed."

Religious Opposition

List of prominent anti-gay groups.

Miscellaneous Related Topics

Anti-gay political advertiser USA Next sued for using gay couple's wedding photo without their consent.


External Links - The best collection of continuously updated GLBT-related news.

Stonewall Democrats - The GLBT Democratic organization.

Log Cabin Republicans - The GLBT Republican organization.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue Database — primary materials on the U.S. military's policy on sexual orientation, from World War I to the present.

Empowering Spirits Foundation — ESF is a national non-profit, non-partisan civil rights organization working to achieve LGBT equality through community service activities. Instead of attempting to change laws ESF strives to change the hearts and minds of those who are generally ignored by existing LGBT organizations through activities designed to allow both sides to work side-by-side.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - founded in 1972, one of America's oldest GLBT organizations. A very liberal group which takes positions on a number of non-gay issues (one reason they are so controversial), the Task Force is critical for the front lines of the war against gay and lesbian Americans. They've had some financial flux in recent years but are very strong under current leader Matt Foreman.

Human Rights Campaign - From their Mission Statement: "Founded in 1980, HRC effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support to fair-minded candidates, and works to educate the public on a wide array of topics affecting GLBT Americans, including workplace, family, discrimination and health issues."

Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is dedicated to helping GLBT candidates get elected to office. Very important.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN is a national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and related forms of intolerance.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered, and people with HIV or AIDS through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is a lobbying and media watchdog organization dedicated to the pursuit of fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of LGBT persons.

GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) works to ensure safe and effective schools for all students. It envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.

Cimmaron Alliance Foundation

Basic Bibliography

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This page was last modified 07:51, 3 October 2010 by Casey. Based on work by Jonathan, Richard Rabinowitz, Chad Lupkes, Randy Goldberg, Arthur Smith and Andrew Oh-Willeke and dKosopedia user(s) Alec82, Powerofpie, BartFraden, Lovepeacecenter, Lestatdelc, Hyperbolic pants explosion, JamesB, Jugwine, Seanr, ZenobiaDTC, Musing85, Punishinglemur, JamesB3, Aaron Gillies, Sipples, PeteyP, Jumbo, Eli, Wclathe, A Texan in Maryland, DailyKos, Maxomai, Drew, Gjc314159, Mike Silverman and Demosthenes. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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