From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/opinion/the-long-road-to-marriage-equality.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
By GEORGE CHAUNCEY
Published: June 26, 2013
NEW HAVEN — THE Supreme Court’s soaring decision to strike down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional is a civil rights landmark, but the history leading up to it is poorly understood. Marriage equality was neither inevitable nor, until recently, even conceivable. And the struggle for it was not, as is commonly believed, a natural consequence of the gay liberation movement that gained steam in the late 1960s.
It was not until the 1980s that securing legal recognition for same-sex relationships became an urgent concern of lesbians and gay men. Decades earlier, such recognition was almost unimaginable. In the 1950s, most states criminalized gay people’s sexual intimacy. Newspaper headlines blared the State Department’s purge of homosexual employees during the McCarthy-era “lavender scare.” Police cracked down on lesbian and gay bars and other alleged “breeding grounds” of homosexuality.
The lesbian and gay liberation movements of the early 1970s did not make marriage a priority — quite the opposite. Activists fought police raids, job discrimination and families’ rejection of their queer children. Most radical activists scorned the very idea of marriage. But a handful walked into clerks’ offices across the country to request marriage licenses. State officials suddenly realized that their laws failed to limit marriage to a man and a woman; no other arrangement had been imagined. By 1978, 15 states had written this limitation into law.
A “traditional family values” movement arose to oppose gay rights and feminism. Anita Bryant and other activists took aim at some of the earliest local anti-discrimination laws, and by 1979 they had persuaded voters in several cities to repeal them. Subsequently, in more than 100 state and local referendums, gay-rights activists had to defend hard-won protections. This, not marriage, consumed much of their energy.
It was the ’80s that changed things. The AIDS epidemic and what came to be known as the “lesbian baby boom” compelled even those couples whose friends and family fully embraced them to deal with powerful institutions — family and probate courts, hospitals, adoption agencies and funeral homes — that treated them as legal strangers.
Hospitals could deny the gay partner of someone with AIDS visitation privileges, not to mention consultation over treatment. He couldn’t use his health insurance to cover his partner. He risked losing his home after his partner died, if his name wasn’t on the lease or if he couldn’t pay inheritance taxes on his partner’s share (which would not have been required of a surviving spouse).
When two women shared parenting and the biological mother died, the courts often felt obliged to grant custody to her legal next of kin — even if the child wished to remain with the nonbiological mother. If the women separated, the biological mother could unilaterally deny her ex the right to see their children.
Continue reading at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/opinion/the-long-road-to-marriage-equality.html?ref=opinion&_r=0