When We Went Gay

WHILE THE TIDE AGAINST GAY MARRIAGE SEEMED TO BE prevailing at the polls, another wave was going in the opposite direction. Shortly after Vermont approved civil unions for gay couples, Tom Stoddard’s old dream of gay wedding announcements in The New York Times came true. On Aug. 18, 2002—nine years after Stoddard, a great gay activist, first lobbied for the change—the paper announced its “Weddings” pages would become “Weddings/Celebrations.” Two weeks later, the paper reported the union in Vermont of Daniel Gross and Steven Goldstein—the owner of a public-affairs consulting firm and a vice president of GE Capital. (When I sent Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. a note congratulating him on the change, he replied with one word: “Overdue.”)

Today more than 500 papers around the country print same-sex wedding announcements, including six in Alabama, 58 in California, seven in Maine and 31 in Texas.

A poll for the Pew Research Center found the number of Americans who “strongly opposed” gay marriage dropped sharply from 42 percent in 2004 to just 28 percent in 2006 (and just 25 percent among Americans younger than 29).

“I think that two generations from now it will be over,” said Mr. Coles of the ACLU—and gay marriage will become legal in America?! “Right now the states fall into four categories: One is Massachusetts, with marriage; four in the second category—Vermont, Connecticut, California and New Jersey—have strong domestic-partnership laws; Hawaii and Maine are in category three—with some significant legal protection; and then there is a fourth category of states that have non-discrimination laws.

“In 25 years, about 30 states will have either marriage or complete civil unions,” Mr. Coles continued, “and then the momentum for nationwide recognition will become pretty much irresistible. Most of the country’s corporate establishment will want it; because it will be too much of a pain in the ass for them, because their employees won’t work in states that don’t recognize them. They’ll be on our side.” (At the end of 2006, 138 major U.S. corporations got a rating of 100 percent from the Human Rights Campaign for the benefits and protections they had extended to their gay employees.)

AS AMERICA SEESAWED BACK AND FORTH ON THE QUESTION of gay marriage, one event was vastly more important than all the others in the fight for equal rights in the new millennium. It was yet another watershed which Stoddard had prophesied 20 years earlier.

Back in 1986, the United States Supreme Court had handed the gay movement its greatest defeat since its birth in the Stonewall riots of 1969 in Greenwich Village. Against the expectations of most court experts, it affirmed a Georgia law which prohibited sodomy between consenting adults inside their own homes. Writing for the 5-to-4 majority in Bowers v. Hardwick, Associate Justice Byron White asserted that to claim that a right to engage in sodomy was “‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ is, at best, facetious.” Stoddard called the case the movement’s “Dred Scott decision”—comparing it to the 1857 Supreme Court ruling which held that blacks were not citizens and therefore could be slaves. And Stoddard was certain that the fierce minority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun would one day become the law of the land. Blackmun argued that the case was really about “the right most valued by civilized men,” which he identified “as the right to be let alone.”

When We Went Gay