One year ago, one my favorite couples decided to tie the knot. And you know why? Because, at last, they could. Just the day before, Christine and Julia were not permitted to marry in the State of New York. But then on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo opened the door to compassion, and signed a historic law legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in New York.
For most of us who live here, it was a day of celebration. Although ours was not the first state to legalize gay marriage (we're the sixth of seven states to do so), we had come a long way. It was here at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on a warm summer night in 1969 that gay men and women first fought back against the discrimination that had marginalized their lives for so many years. Following a police raid at the Stonewall, riots broke out, and the message from the gay community was loud and clear: Enough.
As we continue to celebrate Gay Pride month, it's important to step back and remember milestones like Stonewall, if only because it's difficult to see history as we live it. Even with same-sex marriage laws on the books in seven American states -- and similar legislation brewing in many others -- we need to be mindful that this landmark moment in our time is not the final destination, but a momentary clearing in the brush as we continue our ongoing journey to a greater democracy.
Unfathomable as it may seem now, it wasn't so long ago that interracial marriage was a criminal offense in this country; anti-miscegenation laws even made sex between consenting members of different races illegal in some places. Those laws were not changed until 1967. And when we look back at those who opposed the change, we wonder what must have been in their hearts. Often the answer is fear.
Will future generations look back at us and wonder what was in our hearts when we denied gays the right to marry for so long? Yes, I'm afraid they will. Thankfully, in our lifetime, we're able to witness one more barrier to freedom being torn down.
When I wrote a letter to President Obama last month, I thanked him for his support of gay marriage, and for helping to fulfill the dream of our Founding Fathers: the right to "the pursuit of happiness." And that dream is not debatable. We can debate business regulations, health care reform, immigration laws. But gay rights are a fundamental human right: the right to live and love.
Here in New York, we have billboards that read, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married." I love that slogan -- it's clever and it's funny. But it's also pretty clear: There is no threat to traditional marriage here or anywhere, any more than there was from interracial marriage a generation ago. It's simply a question of civil rights. And when the dust finally settles -- and it will -- I hope to see a country where all families are respected and embraced, and all are free to love whom they choose.
We've put together a slide show that recalls some of the more memorable moments from the gay rights movement around the world. When I look at these images, I feel proud of the progress we've made as a country, and look forward to even greater victories. I hope you do, too.
After enduring ongoing harassment and repeated arrests, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village rise up in protest after yet another police raid. The riots that followed garnered national attention and are considered to be one of the primary catalysts that set the gay rights movement in motion.
Just one year after the Stonewall riots, the first gay pride parade takes place in New York City. It is deemed Christopher Street Liberation Day, and it is actually more of a protest than a parade with marchers walking from Washington Place in Greenwich Village, up Sixth Avenue to a "Be-In" in Central Park. It is a major social milestone and political statement for its day.
When openly gay politician Harvey Milk is elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors, he shows what can be achieved by mobilizing the gay community. Tragically, within a year, he and San Francisco mayor George Mosconi are killed by fellow city supervisor Dan White.
The Scandinavian country of Denmark becomes the first in the world to enact registered partnerships for same-sex couples in 1989. The partnerships grant most of the same rights as marriage.
On December 21, 1993, Bill Clinton institutes the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to prohibit discrimination against or harassment of gay or bisexual service members. However, the policy prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing or speaking about their sexual orientation. The policy further states that people who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" are prohibited from serving in the armed forces of the United States.
At a time when it appears Hawaii may be going to legalize same-sex marriage, Congress passes the controversial Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. It is signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.
The Netherlands becomes the first country in the world to permit same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption rights in 2001. That same year, Germany and Finland allow civil unions for gay couples.
Belgium becomes the second nation in the world to legalize and recognize same-sex marriage in 2003.
In San Francisco, newly-elected mayor Gavin Newsom issues the first same-sex marriage certificates ever in the United States. The California Supreme Court later nullifies the certificates.
On July 3, 2005, Spain passes legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.
On July 20, 2005, Canada becomes the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage.
In 2006, South Africa becomes the first African nation to legalize same-sex marriages
In 2008, the Supreme Courts of California and Connecticut both legalize same-sex marriage. However, the following year, the California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8 defining marriage between a man and a woman, but also rules that previously officiated gay marriages remain valid.
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is elected to the office of Prime Minister of Iceland on February 1, 2009, becoming the world's first openly gay Prime Minister. In June, 2010, Iceland legalizes gay marriage, and Sigurðardóttir marries her longtime partner.
In 2009, the neighboring countries of Norway and Sweden both legalize gay marriage.
In a single year, the nations of Portugal, Iceland and Argentina all legalize same-sex marriage.
On July 6, 2011 a federal appeals court rules against any further enforcement of the U.S. military's ban on openly gay people serving in the armed forces. President Obama sends the certification to Congress on July 22, and on September 20, DADT is officially repealed.
Patrons at the historic Stonewall Inn watch a news report on May 9, 2012, as President Barack Obama says in a televised interview that he believes same sex couples should be able to get married. President Obama becomes the first American president to come out in favor of gay marriage.
As of June, 2012, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Washington DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. The states of Washington and Maryland have passed laws to begin granting same-sex marriage licenses, and Rhode Island recognizes all same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. In California, same-sex marriages that took place between June16, 2008 and November 4, 2008 (when Proposition 8 passed) are still recognized.
On May 31st, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rules that the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against married same-sex couples because it denies them federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples. The court agrees with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage.
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