Saturday, June 27, 2015

The winding trail to legalizing same-sex marriage

I never thought this day would come. 

In the mid-1970s, when I was first coming out, it wasn't even a dream. In Massachusetts, where I was living, sex between persons of the same gender was illegal. In the words of the the relevant state statute (it's still on the books, but it's moot, since the Supreme Court voided all of the anti-sodomy laws in 2003): 
Section 34. Whoever commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than twenty years.
I remember going to the Boston gay pride march in June of 1977. As I recall, fewer than 20,000 people attended the march and rally. At the rally, Charley Shively, a local gay activist, got up and denounced all of the institutions that oppressed gay people, and then he burned his "Harvard diploma, his draft card, and pages from a copy of the Bible."

Alexander Cockburn reports on the rally in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era, p. 235:

I don't recall anyone talking about gay marriage at all - in fact, the atmosphere was quite different from what it is today. People wanted liberation, not just "rights," and liberation included smashing oppressive institutions like marriage. That didn't change for quite a while. 

First came commitment ceremonies. Many of my heterosexual friends got married in the 1980s - I went to a host of fun Jewish weddings, but wondered when we would be celebrating same-sex relationships. I can't remember the first one I went to, whether it was in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. They were designed to be a lesbian counterpart of the traditional Jewish wedding - some of them hewed very closely to the traditional ceremony, except for changing some of the words that didn't apply to a same sex wedding, while others were inspired by Jewish weddings (for example, using a huppah - a wedding canopy) but incorporated a lot of changes. (I still haven't been to a wedding between two men).

Simultaneous with those first ceremonies was the "lesbian baby boom," another thing that no one had anticipated. Of course, lesbians had always had children, usually because they had them from a previous heterosexual marriage, but this was something new. People had to figure out how to unite sperm and egg in new ways - one method was the turkey baster. The sperm donor (in the early years, this was often a friend of the couple) would produce the sperm and then the woman would put it into her vagina (I don't actually know if any of my friends used a turkey baster), and wait and hope for conception.

Then, sometime in the 1990s, people started talking about gay marriage. I wasn't very excited about it at first. For one thing, I was single, and it didn't seem so relevant, and for another thing, I was still inspired by the early gay liberation movement's antipathy to marriage. Anti-sodomy laws were still on the books in most states, and there were very few state-wide anti-discrimination laws (there still is no federal anti-discrimination statute that includes LGBT people). My thought was - let's deal with the anti-sodomy laws and the anti-discrimination laws, and then work on same-sex marriage. But obviously that's not how a lot of people felt, who were very energized to work on legalizing same-sex marriage.

And so we come to yesterday:

And to the rainbow flag projected onto the front of the White House. I really never imagined that!

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