Recently a New York appellate court ruled that valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples must be legally recognized in New York, just as are those of heterosexual couples, although gay couples may not legally marry in the state. The decision was hailed by a New York Times editorial comment.
It is difficult today to realise what being gay was like only 50 years ago. Gays were portrayed as effete homosexuals and predatory deviants, they were caricatured with mincing gaits and sex addictions. Being gay was labeled a sickness, a perversion, along with pedophilia, transvestitism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadism, and masochism. It was considered a sin. Sodomy was considered a crime. No wonder most gays would remain closeted. As long as they did not act like the silly pop of the insane 'pervert', they were straight in the eye of their coworkers and maybe their wives, says David Eidenbach in Gay Power: An American Revolution (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006). "Negative characterization of homosexuals were so common in the media that it was impossible for even the most self-confident and successful gays and lesbians to completely escape feelings of inferiority."
The way gays are considered today is mainly the result of the gay civil rights movements which rose in the US in the mid 50s. It started with a book published in 1951, which had a profound influence on a new generation of young gays. The Homosexual in America, written by Edward Sagarin under the pseudonym Donald Webster Cory, "questioned the barrage of antigay stereotypes, police practices, and laws that pounded American homosexuals" and "offered an analysis of the condition of homosexuals from the point of view not of of psychiatrist or a criminologist but of a gay man. For the first time, a nonfiction book was not demonizing, diagnosing, or patronizing the homosexual. Instead, Cory celebrated him for his unique perspectives and talents and assigned him a central role in the defense of America's liberty."
Gay Power is the fascinating story of the gay movements which transformed the way society looks at homosexuals. In 300 pages David Eisenbach, a professor of History and Literature at Columbia University, provides a very convincing account of the three decades which saw the gays become a recognised minority, the homosexual stereotypes falter, and homosexuality stop being considered a sickness. It did not happen by chance. It was the result of a fierce fight by a handful of men, progressively joined by more and more individuals.
Of course one can smile, have a contemptuous view of these events, consider that homosexuality is a private matter - and it is. But read Eisenbach's book. You will realize why the gay rights movement matters, why the mainstream view of homosexuality is so important for the future of young gays. When kids or teens come to realize that they are gay, their surroundings are the first influence on how they will accept it: parents, friends, teachers. Their family is not the natural heaven where they will find the support and positive feedback that other minorities find. Society as a whole had to evolve in order for young gays, in particular, to feel acceptance in their own family and close relationships. Despite the progress made, we are not yet there!
The 'gay liberation movement' produced a reaction in the late 70s and 80s, which through the Reagan years, became very much politicized. Republicans understood that they could use the gay issues to gain votes from a large fraction of American democrats. The last line of defence against a wide acceptance of homosexuality became the preservation of the American family. The AIDS epidemics in the 80s fueled the attacks from the traditional right but at the same time it led an unprecedented number of gays to come out, forced them to alter their sexual practices, and "sparked the revolutionary movement to gain legal recognition for gay marriage."
Read Gay Power.
"Heroes of this history of the gay rights movement - Bob Martin, Marty Robinson, Jim Owles, Morty Manford, Bruce Voeller, Lenny Matlovich, and Randy Shilts - were all lost to AIDS. The dream that these men shared, however, was not lost. In 1951 Donald Webster Cory suggested that the way to secure equal rights for gays and lesbians was for homosexuals to be recognized as a minority, for American liberals to embrace their cause, and for the conspiracy of silence to be broken by serious media coverage of homosexuality. Thirty years later, the gay rights movement had achieved these goals and transformed America into a country where most homosexuals could confidently abandon the closet and identify themselves proudly as gay men to their families, friends, and co-workers. As Cory predicted, all Americans have benefited from the gay power revolution. By establishing a media presence, the gay rights movement was able to reeducate and liberate a majority of Americans. Numerous television programs and news reports showed straights that homosexuals were not threats to society. Parents were not longer told to be embarrassed by their 'deviant' children but were encouraged to form loving, honest relationships with them. Employers no longer feared the impact of homosexual workers on office morale but were free to exploit the talents of all their employees. A majority of Americans were freed from the pervasive homophobia that kept generations of gays and straights from becoming friends. The number of people who reported having a gay friend or close acquaintance doubled from 1985 to 1994 (form 22 to 43 percent) and rose to 56 percent by 2000. Having a gay friend of family member was predictive of liberal sentiments toward homosexual and gay rights. (...) While significant portions of the population, most notably televangelists, opportunistic politicians, and government agencies, have continued to resist granting equal rights to homosexuals, a majority of the American population has made great strides toward the day when all citizens can live openly and contribute their talents freely to the wealth and strength of the nation."