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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Journey from Stonewall To Marriage

Text of remarks made to Maryland EEO professionals at Baltimore City Community College, July 10, 2014


Greetings!  It is an honor to speak before such an important group of professionals, and I appreciate the opportunity. 

When I was first invited to do this, I was asked to provide an overview of “gay. ”  So I Googled “gay” and came up with 1 billion, 880 million pages.  In trying to craft a presentation based on that many references, I estimated my talk would last 9 months and 22 days.  Clearly, it needed refinement or a different topic. 
Eventually, the subject of “same-sex marriage” was suggested, and I found 134 million pages on the Internet.   My presentation would have been reduced to merely 3 or 4 weeks in length but still that could be an ordeal for me as well as you, the audience.

Therefore, I decided to whittle that down to a brief description of the journey to achieve same-sex marriage and discuss how we reached the point whereby we’re just a Supreme Court decision away from making marriage equality the law of the land.
Before I begin this discussion, I want to introduce you to the end result of the quest for marriage equality for me personally—my husband Bob, whom I married in Massachusetts nearly 5 years ago.  All told we’ve been together over 34 years.

Pre-Stonewall.  To appreciate how far we’ve come, we must briefly examine how the world existed before the famous Stonewall uprising that occurred the weekend beginning June 27, 1969.  As you may be aware, in this historic episode, bar patrons fought back against the police after yet another raid saying in effect, “enough is enough.” 
Although this was a seminal event, and is arguably the launching pad for the modern gay rights movement, the Compton riots in San Francisco in 1966 involving transgender and transsexual folks may have really kick-started the movement but it didn’t generate as much publicity over the years as Stonewall did.

At the time of Stonewall, frequent gay bar raids occurred with police demanding ID’s under the threat of arrest.  
Entrapment by the police was astonishingly commonplace especially in what are called “cruising areas.”  So was blackmail.

Names of the arrested were published in the newspapers: Jobs lost.  Tenants evicted from apartments.  Families were torn apart. 

Gays were beaten up by straights with alarming frequency.  Same-sex dancing was prohibited, as was touching.  Gay sex was criminal behavior.   

There were no laws on the books to protect against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.  

Gays and lesbians were banished from the military following extensive witch-hunts. 
There were no domestic partner benefits or any rights based on same-sex relationships at major corporations and few universities. 

There were no openly gay elected officials, and anyone in the public eye remained in the closet. No officeholder supported an end to the harassment, much less advocated for equality.  The thought of marriage between same-sex partners didn’t even exist.
A television show with a major gay character was unthinkable, as well as an openly gay actor.  Any gay characters portrayed in movies were either depressed, suicidal, flamboyant or a victim of some sort. There were few, if any, gay-related periodicals.

Homosexuality was viewed as a psychological disorder; queers were considered sick and fair game by a hostile, homophobic society.  
Most chose to remain in the closet. 

Partners were introduced as “roommates.”
And because of family pressures, so many gays and lesbians were virtually forced to date or marry members of the opposite sex to deflect any suspicion of being gay.

Post-Stonewall.   In the ensuing years, gay people had to endure a phenomenal amount of setbacks but overall, we have come so far as a community, it defies imagination.  We have progressed from merely hoping for tolerance to later seeking acceptance, and now full equality is within our grasp some day.
The complexity and scope of the gay rights movement at both the national and local levels cannot be appropriately captured by a simple chronological timeline. Events and legal outcomes have spanned over decades.  Instead, it is more instructive to highlight the progress and setbacks according to a few key landmarks and issues.  There are, of course, numerous other victories and defeats, but these have been the key turning points in my opinion.

American Psychiatric Association. One of the early breakthroughs in the post-Stonewall era was the finding from the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, which removed homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution supporting this removal.

HIV/AIDS.  Though there was some degree of momentum heading in the 1980’s a setback of catastrophic proportions devastated the gay community with the discovery of HIV/AIDS. 
Gay and bisexual men by the tens of thousands were infected by the disease in the U.S., and thousands died from it.

In the beginning of the scourge, the public saw it as a “gay disease” although HIV can be transmitted by intravenous drug users and tainted blood transfusions. 
Politically, the AIDS epidemic was used to bash gays and their so-called lifestyle by homophobes, religious and other social conservatives. Funding for dealing with the crisis was unconscionably insufficient. 

Military.  In another key development, President Obama signed a law that ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had been in effect since 1994.   Then President Clinton, who sought to end the ban on openly gay and lesbian individuals serving in the armed forces, settled on a compromise fashioned by Congressional and military leaders known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In the 16 years that transpired under this policy, over 13,000 service members were discharged, a significant number of whom held critical jobs for our national security, such as Arabic linguists. 

Furthermore, a study conducted by GAO and later by an expert commission found that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had cost taxpayers $363 million during the first 10 years alone.
Hate Crimes.  When 21 year-old Matthew Shepard was kidnapped and brutally beaten to death in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, the crime had garnered national and international attention to the dangers that gays are exposed to at the hands of those who are hateful.

During the next 11 years, Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, tirelessly lobbied around the country and in the corridors of Washington to secure legislation that would add extra penalties to those convicted of a crime based on hate.
In October 2009, the aptly named Matthew Shepard Act was passed so that the Federal Hate Crimes statute was expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  President Obama signed the measure into law.

Decriminalization.  The decriminalization of gay sex marked another turning point.   This occurred on June 26, 2003   when the U.S. Supreme Court by a 6-3 decision, struck down the sodomy law in Texas in the case Lawrence v. Texas. 
The majority held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lawrence effectively invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that purport to criminalize sodomy between consenting same-sex adults acting in private. It also invalidated the application of sodomy laws to heterosexual sex.

At the time, the decision was considered by many as the most significant legal victory in the U.S. for gays and lesbians.

Marriage.   The subject of same-sex marriage hardly made it to a national conversation until the late 1980’s when the AIDS crisis brought questions of inheritance and death benefits to people’s minds.
In 1993, opponents of same-sex marriage  had started to rev up their rhetoric following a Hawaii State Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s refusal to grant marriage license
is to same-sex couples was discriminatory.
DOMA. In 1996, in what appeared to be a move to squash any efforts to achieve marriage equality by the states, Congress passed a veto-proof measure, which President Clinton reluctantly signed into law.  It was called the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA.
DOMA’s main provisions were to give the states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they may occur and to deny federal benefits to same-sex married couples.  The House Judiciary Committee, however, expressed the true intent: to “reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality”.

Massachusetts.  On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that barring same–sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional.
Given 180 days to take whatever action was deemed appropriate, then Governor Mitt Romney ordered clerks to issue marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Accordingly, the controversial subject of gay marriage was one of the major issues during 2004 presidential election.  Religious and cultural conservatives denounced the prospect of same-sex marriages as a threat to the sanctity of the institution and would destroy society.
Criticizing “activist judges,” they had successfully heightened the fears of the public and used the issue as a fundraising tool.

Here’s a fun fact: As to same-sex marriage being the ruin of the institution of marriage, Massachusetts, the state where marriage for same-sex couples has existed longer than any other, has the lowest divorce rate in the U.S.

Also, I know of no documented case whereby a heterosexual couple sought a divorce because a same-sex couple became married.
2004.  In 2004 Republican political guru Karl Rove exploited the ruling in Massachusetts to drive a wedge among Democratic voters—particularly targeting African-Americans.  Republicans managed to place constitutional amendments on the ballots in 11 states that would prevent same-sex couples from marrying.  They all succeeded.

Many believe that the scare tactics and ballot initiatives worked in the presidential election in that a higher than normal turnout among evangelical voters in the swing state of Ohio may have been the difference.
Also, there was an effort to propose a constitutional amendment called the Federal Marriage Amendment which, if passed by both houses in Congress and ratified by 38 states, would define marriage as between one man and one woman.  The measure failed in July 2006 in the House of Representatives. 

Prop. 8. At the state level, one of the more publicized contests, however, took place in California in 2008 where voters approved Proposition 8 that denied the right for same-sex couples to marry after the legislature had previously passed the measure.
This setback sent tremors among LGBT folks worldwide.  Not only was California the most populous state but a high Democratic turnout in support of Barack Obama during the election was seen as a way to overcome largely Republican opposition and the measure would fail.  It wound up passing for a variety of reasons including heavy funding from outside organizations and well-timed and poorly answered scare tactics through TV ads.

Maryland.  Since 2004, advocates in Maryland have sought civil marriage for same-sex couples, whereby religious institutions are exempt from being forced to marry couples if they do not want to.
Roughly 40 percent of couples in Maryland are married in city halls, town clerks offices and by justices of the peace.  Those marriages are still valid even without a religious ceremony.

A lawsuit was filed in July 2004, which charged that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality but the state’s Court of Appeals ruled against the 19 plaintiffs in 2007.  The decision upheld the 1973 law which states that marriage is between a man and a woman but signaled that the legislature can address the issue.

However, various attempts to gain marriage equality through the legislature had failed.

In February 2010, Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler issued an opinion that Maryland law could recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other U.S. states.
In 2011 for the first time the Civil Marriage Protection Act passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and then went on to pass in the Senate.

However, after realizing there were a couple of votes short of passage in the House of Delegates, supporters of the bill voted it back to committee, thereby ending the effort in 2011.
2012.  Then came 2012, which became arguably the most pivotal year in the fight for marriage equality. Never before had voters supported same-sex marriage at the ballot box.  In that year’s General Assembly, Governor O’Malley reversed his long-held position and stated he now supported marriage equality in Maryland.  His leadership was instrumental in enabling the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to pass both chambers, and the governor promptly signed the measure on March 1.

Opponents immediately vowed to gather enough signatures to petition the law to referendum.  Emboldened by the success of Prop. 8 and believing the trend would continue where a vote on same-sex marriage would again be defeated at the ballot box, opponents of the law easily reached the required number of signatures .
Along with other issues such as the Dream Act and gambling, marriage equality was placed on the November ballot and was called Question 6—a Yes vote meant that the law would stand.
The battle to defend the law was led by a coalition consisting of a wide array of social justice and LGBT organizations as well as unions and civil rights groups under the umbrella organization Marylanders for Marriage Equality. 

A heated political battle ensued.  Opponents claimed as they did during the campaign for Proposition 8 that if this law is not overturned, homosexuality would be taught in the schools, overlooking the fact that local school boards determine curricula.

They also used the outdated notion that being gay is a choice.  The term “sexual preference” rather than the more accepted phrase “sexual orientation” was used.  I don’t think there is a gay or lesbian person on earth who would state that they chose to be gay…any more than straight people can admit that they chose to be heterosexual.
They say that marriage is for procreation.  There are thousands of married couples who cannot or do not want children and their marriages are valid.  Furthermore, legalizing same-sex marriage would not impede a heterosexual couple’s desire to procreate.

Opponents argued that children do better with both a mother and a father.  Credible studies have demonstrated that children do better with two parents rather than one, and that the children of gay parents are as well-adjusted and healthy as children of opposite–sex parents.

And, of course, there were plenty of references to the Bible to argue against same-sex marriage, but I will not comment on those here.
Proponents of Question 6 received an unexpected but welcome boost when Vice President Biden followed by President Obama endorsed marriage equality in the spring of 2012. Additionally, the NAACP followed suit.  More public officials, including some Republicans, indicated support, and momentum was swinging towards equality.

Ultimately, Marylanders for Marriage Equality outraised and outspent the opponents, and the other ballot initiatives crowded out much of the available TV air time to allow opponents to use their tried and true scare tactics.
In the end, Maryland, along with Maine and Washington, became the first states to win marriage equality at the ballot box.  Until then, voters in 30 states had denied same-sex couples the right to marry and to enjoy the dignity and security that goes with it not to mention the over 1,100 benefits and rights that are afforded heterosexual married couples.. 
At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2013, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiated the first same-sex wedding in Maryland in Baltimore City Hall.

Momentum was clearly gaining.  Polls show that 10 years ago, less than 40 percent of the U.S. population supported same-sex marriage.  Now it is close to 60 percent and counting.  Never has a movement progressed with such speed as the quest to achieve marriage equality.
Supreme Court.  The next big turning point occurred last year when the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision in Windsor v. the United States ruled that the portion of DOMA that denies federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples was unconstitutional.  The Court also dismissed the appeal of Prop. 8 in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry based on jurisdictional grounds so that same-sex marriages may resume in California.

Since then, one state after another—some of which are “red” states—had legal challenges to their bans on same-sex marriage reversed by lower courts with many of the decisions based on the majority opinion expressed in the Windsor case.  Some of these rulings have not been challenged by the states in question; others are appealing.  Consequently, every state in the U.S. where bans are still in effect now has a legal challenge in this matter.
The Supreme Court did not issue a broad, sweeping ruling last year that negate the state bans on same-sex marriage.  But it will likely face that opportunity in the near future as one of the challenges—probably Utah—will wind up in the highest court of the land.

In conclusion, we have traveled a long, sometimes bumpy road to be where we are today, but the journey is far from over.  The voyage has been exciting but the destination is most important. Much work needs to be done in obtaining a federal ban on discrimination in the workplace that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  We need to continue to curtail bullying of LGBT kids in schools and over the Internet.  We must address the needs of the growing LGBT senior population and to effectively deal with the homelessness problems facing some LGBT youth.
There is a lot to do yet, but these problems are not beyond our reach.  For no one ever thought even 10 years ago that we’d be discussing the success of same-sex marriage today.

Thank you and I welcome any questions.


Colette Roberts said...

Steve this is awesome. What an excellent piece of history you have written. Concise and pertinent and accurate. I would love to see this widely published and hope you give more talks. Thank you.

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation yesterday at BCCC. All of the information is useful and insightful to us as EEO Professionals and the appropriately infused humor held my attention!
Carla Loving

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Nelson Mandela

Unknown said...

I truly enjoyed your presentation at BCCC on July 10. It was insightful and educational.

Renee Williams