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LGBT History Part I: Gay Marriage

On June 26,2015, hundreds of people gathered outside the Supreme Court anxiously awaiting the decision of the most important case in modern LGBT history, Obergefell v. Hodges. In a 5-4 decision, the Court delivered an epic victory for LGBT rights, the

Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. As the decision was announced the crowd erupted in joy.

Chants of “Love has won” rang through the crowd. People embraced their partners as tears of joy streamed down their face. It was a monumental ruling that changed the lives of many; a decision that was another step in paving the way for LGBT rights.

One, Inc. v. Olesen (1958)

ONE, Inc. began publishing a pro-gay magazine, ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, in 1952. The Los Angeles postmaster, Otto Olesen, declared that the October 1954 issue was “obscene and lewd” and refused to deliver it. The magazine sued and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Without hearing oral arguments, the court issued their very short decision, ruling that the magazine’s writing was not obscene.

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

A Georgia police officer observed Michael Hardwick engaging in consensual oral sex with another man. The officer arrested both men for sodomy, but the District Attorney choose not

to prosecute. Hardwick sued the officer and the ended up in the Supreme Court. The Court issued a disappointing decision that the Georgia law criminalizing sodomy was constitutional. This decision was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

Romer v. Evans (1996)

In 1992, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibited any law recognizing LGBT individuals as a protected class. The Supreme Court heard the case in 1995 and found that the amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Boy Scouts of America v Dale (2000)

The Boy Scouts removed James Dale, a former Eagle Scout, from his position as assistant scoutmaster because of his sexual orientation. Dale sued and his case was head by the Supreme Court in 2000. The Court ruled against Dale stating that the Boy Scouts of America were protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of association right.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

In Texas, two men were arrested and convicted of having “deviant sex.” The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 2002. On June 26, 2003, the Court ruled in its 6-3 decision that the Texas law violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This case explicitly overruled an earlier decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.

United States v. Windsor (2013)

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Canada in 2007 and later moved to New York, a state that recognized same-sex marriage. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her estate to Windsor. When Windsor attempted to claim the federal tax exemption that surviving spouses receive, she was denied under a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that was enacted in 1999. Windsor sued and the case made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court found that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional as it deprived a person of their liberty that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)

The California Supreme Court held that state statutes limiting marriage to only opposite-sex

couples violated the state’s constitution in May 2008. The following month same-sex couples were able to marry in the state. That November, Californians adopted Proposition 8 adding a constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Following the adoption of Proposition 8, several lawsuits were filed. Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to defend the lawsuit, saying that the proposition violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The governor also declined to participate in the defense but felt that the courts should hear the case. The Supreme Court found that the sponsors of Proposition 8 did not have standing to bring their case. This effectively overturned Proposition 8.

The day the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was announced, President Obama said in his Rose Garden speech, “Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.” He was right; the fight for equal rights has been long and while there have been some setbacks, but we continue to fight for what is right. We continue to fight for love and equality.


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