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The Gay Rights Movement: How It Has Changed Our World

Article By: Nina Bingham
Gay and lesbian



In this article I will discuss three social movements (gay rights, marriage, and adoption); how they developed in American culture, and what changes have happened as a result. I will also discuss international law on gay rights, and show how the spread of Western capitalistic values that are labeled “liberal” in nature has advanced the cause of human rights worldwide. I will also share my personal joys and sorrows in the struggle for equality as a gay person. Before I begin sharing my views and experiences it would be naive to ignore what a complex topic this is, so I’d like to say this will be a cursory narrative only, and the only viewpoint I have to offer is my own. The topic of gay rights is a firebrand for many, as it involves people’s religious convictions, conservative and liberal political agendas, freedom as citizens and as human beings, homophobia, fears, ignorance, and state law.



Submitted:Apr 16, 2011    Reads: 189    Comments: 4    Likes: 1   


Gay rights weren't an "issue" of prominence in the United States until "Stonewall;" in 1969 when a gay bar in New York was raided. At The Stonewall Inn, patrons fought back as police harassed them, and a 3 night riot ensued. "Almost overnight, a massive grassroots gay liberation movement was born" (infoplease.com). Such a "community coming-out" was possible due to the simultaneous equal rights movement of blacks, women, and students. "By 1970, 5,000 gay men and lesbians marched in New York City to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; in 1987, over 600,000 marched on Washington to demand equality"(infoplease.com). In an effort to adjust to the public's changing attitudes towards gays, states "decriminalized" homosexuality, and some like Massachusetts and Wisconsin included sexual orientation in their civil rights statutes. Religious denominations began debating whether or not homosexuality should be considered a "sin." Some, like the Unitarians and Reformed Judaism, ordained gay ministers and rabbis. "The lesbian and gay world was no longer an underground subculture but, in larger cities especially, a well-organized community, with businesses, political and social service agencies, community centers, and religious congregations bringing people together" (infoplease.com).
As the homosexual community mobilized to advance their civil liberties, the conservative, right-wing political agenda to limit and control their new-found freedoms was just heating up. Politicians and ministers such as Jerry Falwell of the "Moral Majority" agreed that homosexuality was immoral, based upon their interpretation of the Bible, and mobilized Republicans to oppose what became popularly referred to by conservative leaders in the media as "the homosexual agenda." I recall thinking at the time how ironic it was that homosexuals were being accused of having an "agenda" when clearly, the conservatives had an agenda, too. Homosexuals certainly did have an agenda, and it was to end discrimination and achieve equality. The conservative agenda was to oppose their equality, but wouldn't publicly acknowledge their campaign as an "agenda." Consider the respected authorities in the fields of clinical psychology, psychiatry, the Supreme Court and the majority of state laws declaring homosexuality to be psychologically healthy behavior, and who protect homosexuals from discrimination (Romer Vs. Evans). The majority of consensus in the courts is to allow domestic partnership benefits and civil unions, and in Massachusetts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court concluded that "to deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage" to gay couples was unconstitutional because it denied "the dignity and equality of all individuals" and made them "second-class citizens." Despite evidence that our social institutions are granting homosexuals rights and protections, and despite the opinion of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association who agree that homosexuality is a normal, albeit alternative sexual orientation, conservatives denounce same-sex orientation as "abnormal" and "immoral." I believe these people are not, as a whole, mean-spirited, and they aren't suppressing homosexual rights because they're supremacists and enjoy making life difficult for us. In fact, I believe most Christians to be sincere in their devotion to God, and believe what they have been taught is morally correct. They have been indoctrinated from an early age, and sometimes over generations that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, and if it says that homosexuality is a sin, then to support same-sex marriage or adoption would be like putting their stamp of approval on something evil. They believe that society around them is evolving towards evil and away from God; that secularists are destroying their once-puritanical roots, and their faith is being scorned as society looks to science for answers, and not to God. So when respected authorities and institutions "condone" homosexual rights, they ignore such information, because in their eyes, God is the ultimate authority, not science.
Internationally, the gay rights movement gained exponential momentum in 1989 when Denmark became the first country in the world to legislate same-sex partnerships. Within two years, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and France did the same. In 2001, the Netherlands was the first to legalize same-sex marriage, and then Belgium and Spain. Ontario and British Columbia, Canada legalized marriages in 2003, and in 2005 the Canadian parliament legalized gay marriage throughout the country. Other countries that offer same-sex partnership benefits include: Finland, Germany, Brazil, Croatia, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, and Switzerland (infoplease.com). Depending upon which side of the fence you stand on the issue, Europe is either more progressive about human rights than is the U.S., or more liberal and less Christian. Again, I prefer to apply reason and logic instead of religious doctrine to this matter, and conclude that if there are 19 other countries granting gay rights, and then it is sensible and prudent for the U.S. to keep step with the global advance in human rights. There was a time when it was an undisputed "fact" that the world was flat, and it wasn't until a scientist proved that belief to be erroneous that people could believe the truth; it was round! I believe the same is true about gay rights; conservatives refuse to believe that gays deserve equality, even when empirical data shows no detriment to society due to same-sex marriage or gay adoption. You can go on believing the world is flat because that is what you were told by an authority figure, but in time, archaic ideas about the world are replaced by scientific evidence by those who are "Doubting-Thomas's;" those who must see to believe.
Same-sex marriage has been the center of the gay rights storm, and continues to be a lightning rod for debate. Instead of presenting the history of same-sex marriage, I've chosen to share my personal experience of being one of the over 450 same-sex couples that were married, and a year later annulled, by the state of Oregon. On March 3, 2004, my partner and I of three years were having an average, dull morning as we dressed to go to work. The television was tuned to the local morning's newscast and I wasn't paying any attention to what was being said. My partner was frozen in front of the television, listening intently as I brushed by. She grabbed my sleeve. "Listen!" she commanded. At first I thought the newscaster was saying that another state was allowing same-sex marriages. Then I realized he was announcing that same-sex marriages were being legalized in Oregon, and the county clerk's office would be issuing marriage licenses to gay couples during office hours. My partner and I stared at one another in disbelief. Was it real or was this going to be another occasion for disappointment? We had been living together and had a committed relationship which included children, and had discussed going to Canada to be married, but hadn't because a Canadian marriage wouldn't offer us any legal rights or benefits in the U.S. Although I was afraid that the report we heard was too good to be true, we got dressed in our finest and raced down to the county clerk's office. It was a media event-television, radio, and newspaper reporters and cameras swarmed the scene. Conservative Christians groups with picket signs and bullhorns were barricaded behind ropes that they weren't to cross. The Police had been given orders to keep the protesters at bay, and to protect the couples from the hostile threats. We stood in the rain, in a line that wrapped around the building, and eventually 450 couples were issued marriage licenses in 3 days. The protesters jeered and shouted horrible things to us. We were called sinners, told we were going to hell, and that we were abominations to God. Some of the more vocal gays got into verbal arguments with the protesters but most of us patiently and quietly resolved to wait it out in the rain and icy cold wind. It took us 3 hours in line before we reached the doors of the clerk's office and I couldn't feel my toes, fingers, or nose anymore. I think most of us would have walked on our knees to be married if we had to.
They gave us thee standard Oregon marriage license which only has two designations, that of bride and groom. Neither of us wanted to sign on the groom's line, but one of us had to. We paid a filing fee and were issued our license. After that we found a café and ate hot soup and marveled at seeing our names on the license. After lunch we hurried uptown to the county courthouse where there was another long line to stand in. The protesters were gone, which was a relief, and roses were given out so everyone had flowers. The mood turned jubilant and couples shared their feelings of relief and triumph. Couples were taking photographs for one another and everyone was dressed formally, some people wore traditional wedding attire of gowns and tuxes. Although it was freezing weather the atmosphere was jubilant. As Mayor Vera Katz walked toward the courthouse to lend her support she received thunderous applause from the couples. We called a mutual best friend and he met us at the courthouse to sign the marriage certificate as a witness. By the time we were married it was another 3 hours. There were simultaneous ceremonies being conducted by ordained ministers of different denominations. It was noisy and busy and it seemed like everybody was smiling and crying. Some couples who hadn't had the time to buy wedding rings used whatever they had available. Family, children and friends were there in support, and some couples included their children in the ceremony. Some couples had been together most of their lives and never thought they would see such a remarkable day. There was a sense that we were making history, the first same-sex marriages in Oregon, and the day seemed ominous, sacred, and meaningful, not just on an individual level, but meaningful for the advancement of human rights.
A year later our spirits were dashed when we received a notice of annulment in the mail from the State of Oregon, stating we were no longer married. The State of Oregon had declared the issuing of licenses to same-sex couples to be unlawful and unconstitutional, after legislators re-wrote the Oregon constitution to specify marriage as being between a man and a woman only. After living for a year as a married couple we were suddenly, and without recourse, being told of our annulment. My partner and I are still together and though we don't need a marriage license to keep us together, we feel we deserve the same rights that married couples have. In February 2008 the State of Oregon passed a law that allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, allowing some spousal rights (infoplease.com). That is a step in the right direction but it clearly differentiates gay from heterosexual couples, making gays "second-class citizens."
The final area I'd like to explore is lesbian and gay adoption rights. Of the civil liberties that have been denied gays and lesbians, adoption remains at the top of the list. "Only 4 states: Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California permit same-sex couple adoption" (Belge,1). Florida went so far as to ban gays and lesbians from adopting. In 1977, Anita Bryant claimed that gays and lesbians were child molesters, and state Senators voted for a ban on gay adoption. There are two sides to every story told, so I'll summarize the arguments. First, let's look at the opposing "reasons:"
  1. Florida argues that banning adoption is a way of discouraging homosexual relationships, which the state opposes.
  2. Florida argues children are better off with a mother and a father who are married
  3. Some opponents argue that children of homosexuals will be subjected to harassment.
Secondly, the case for gay and lesbian adoptions:
  1. Older and special needs children are hard to place. They could be living in a home with two loving parents instead of a foster home or institution if adopted by a gay couple.
  2. According to the 2000 census, only 24% of homes were "traditional" families with a mother, father, and children. And scientific studies have proven that children of gays and lesbians achieve as well socially and emotionally as children of heterosexual couples.
  3. If the child is conceived through artificial insemination, only the birth mother has custody of the child. If the birth mother were to die, the child's other parent has no legal rights to that child.
I believe gay and lesbian adoption will only be sanctioned when same-sex marriage is. The courts prefer two-parent homes to single-parent homes, and if same-sex rights were granted to homosexuals, the courts would be more inclined to look favorably on that. When are these changes going to happen? There is a saying: A big boat turns slowly. In other words, fundamentalists established America, and changes to that ideology and system are going to come gradually. Changes will happen because the conservative rhetoric is going to lose its luster as science, technology, and human rights shed light on the true human condition. Because of the influence of mass media, we have become a global "community;" a lesbian couple in the U.S is unable to adopt a child, and emails a gay couple in Canada who have successfully adopted children. They begin a dialogue via the Internet, and the Canadian couple urges them to take the necessary steps to communicate their frustration and dissatisfaction to their state legislators. The lesbian couple decides to voice their concerns, and gets involved with a campaign to lobby their legislation for adoption rights. Because of the ability to communicate with the couple in Canada who are already enjoying the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples, the lesbian couple are encouraged to get involved and make their voices known. This is how change takes place. As we communicate globally and have access to the world's news and views, our world grows. Because of the mass media and technology, our perspectives broaden, our curiosity is heightened, we gain in knowledge and skills, we grow in intelligence, and even enlightenment. By sharing information we are all better for it, and in this way, globalization promotes the furtherance of human rights into the future and around the world. Tolerance of minorities (including homosexuals) will increase as more minorities become technology literate and politically savvy. In my lifetime I have seen tremendous change in favor of human rights, and yet, with all my heart, I wish society would evolve faster than it is. I am impatient for equality, as I hope my children are. I hope in their lifetimes they will see equality become the agenda of every country and court, even if I don't. If I have given them anything, it is the legacy of thinking for themselves, and cherishing equality. I hope their agenda is to change the world.
References
Infoplease.com, Information Please Database, 2007, Pearson Education, Inc., The Gay
Rights Movement: A Timeline.
Infoplease.com, Please Database, 2007, Pearson Education, Inc., Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement, Excerpted from the Reader's Companion to American History, 1991 by Houghton Mufflin Company.
Belge, Kathy, About.com, Lesbian and Gay Adoption Rights, January 29, 2004.
Wikipedia.org, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., Same-Sex Marriage in Oregon, 08 February 2008.




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