As New York City was waking up on Saturday, June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. The raid led to riots and protests that lasted several days. Such police harassment was hardly uncommon at the time, but this particular raid proved to be the last straw. What could have been a quickly forgotten brawl instead became “the beginning of the modern struggle for gay civil rights” (Teal). The Stonewall Riots pushed the gay rights movement to the forefront of hot-button topics in the United States, where it has remained ever since (Teal).
The gay rights movement has slowly achieved success since it began gaining momentum after World War II. Despite harassment and police raids on gay bars like the Stonewall Inn, “there was [great] political activity [. . .], aimed in large measure at decriminalizing sodomy” (Levy). While gay rights organizations won some legal reforms in Europe in the mid-twentieth century, American groups still fought for rights as basic as freedom of speech. One, a national gay periodical, had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 simply to be given the right to mail its magazine through the American postal service (Levy).
After the Stonewall Riots, the 70s and 80s saw the rapid growth of gay-rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign which demanded social and legal reforms. These groups encourage gay men and women to campaign for government positions, leading to the elections of prominent gay rights activists like Harvey Milk and Barney Frank (Levy). In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii indicated a belief that denying marriage to same-sex couples could be sex discrimination, becoming the first state to address the issue. Although voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage before any changes could be made, the action sparked national debate and led Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, defining marriage as between a man and a woman (“Hawaii”). Not until 2003 did the Supreme Court rule the anti-sodomy laws still in use in 12 states unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas (Levy). The year proved to be momentous for the gay rights movement when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage unconstitutional (“Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health”). Since then sixteen other states have legalized same-sex marriage, many within the past year, but the battle is not over—not with 33 states maintaining a ban on same-sex marriage (“Defending Marriage”).
Marriage has become the core of the gay rights movement. Early gay-rights activism focused more on acceptance and eliminating discrimination than on access to institutions such as marriage. Today, concerns include “anti-gay bullying at schools, transgender rights, HIV and AIDS issues, and the need for more laws against anti-gay discrimination” (Crary), but marriage equality tends to take precedence over other issues. This...