On Tuesday, the Democrats adopted a plank in their platform calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage. This came on the heels of President Barack Obama’s announcement earlier this summer that he supported same-sex marriage. While we’re still a long way from full national recognition of same-sex marriage, the event still represented a milestone in the quest for equal rights for the LGBT community.
Polling trendlines make it almost inevitable that same-sex marriage will be legalized sooner or later; generally speaking, younger voters are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing two adults to marry, and there are more younger voters every day. It’s easy to forget the long and difficult road that we’ve traveled to get to the cusp of marriage equality.
Early Activism Yields Little
In 1970, less than a year after the Stonewall Riots, gay rights activists Jack Baker and Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license in Hennepin County, the Minnesota county anchored by Minneapolis. At the time, no state laws prohibited same-sex marriage, but the license was still denied on the grounds that common law assumed marriage was between a man and a woman. The pair appealed the case to the Supreme Court, but lost.
The case did spark action — against marriage equality. In 1973, Maryland became the first of many states to outlaw same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, gay rights activists continued to seek licenses, even receiving some in Boulder, C0lo., and Phoenix, Ariz. — although all the licenses were eventually invalidated.
Movement Internationally, Stagnation in America
The late 1970s and 1980s saw little movement on the domestic front. LGBT activism in the 1980s was focused on combating the AIDS epidemic and simply trying to hold ground on basic rights in the face of the Reagan administration. There was little energy to push for marriage at the same time.
That didn’t mean that there were no steps toward marriage equality, though. In 1979, the Netherlands passed a law giving limited rights to same-sex couples. Ten years later, Denmark became the first nation to legalize civil unions for same-sex partners. It wasn’t quite full equality, but it was a step forward.
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