Family Issues

The Long History of Gay Marriage

It didn't begin with a bill.


Not at stake: the right to marry a talking rabbit.
Warner Bros.

We've come a long way from the days when activists opposed to a constitutional amendment could warn in horrified tones that it would lead to legalized gay marriage. Today that amendment—the ERA—is long dead, but the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a couple of cases that could establish a legal right to same-sex marriage based on clauses that were in the Constitution already.

A certain amount of amnesia surrounds this issue. At a time when a National Journal reporter can casually claim that in the '80s same-sex marriage was "little more than a thought experiment," it's worth remembering that for countless people, same-sex marriage in the '80s—and earlier—was a day-to-day reality, even if the families they established didn't enjoy the same legal status as the families forged by heterosexuals. The movement toward marital rights for gays and lesbians didn't begin with a bill or a thought experiment. It began with ordinary couples who decided to marry whether or not the government was going to recognize their union. As I wrote two years ago,

Go ahead and marry. The courts will catch up eventually.
public domain

Members of the same gender have been coupling off for centuries, sometimes with ceremonies that look rather marital to modern eyes. Here in America, gay marriages predate the modern gay rights movement. Six years before Stonewall, the 1963 book The Homosexual and his Society described informal gay weddings where "all the formalities of [a] legally certified and religiously sanctioned ceremony are aped with the greatest of care."…As gay life became more visible, so did those permanent partnerships, and as social tolerance of homosexuality grew, more people accepted the partners' marriages as real. In 1992, long before any state recognized gay marriage as a legal right, Suzanne Sherman could fill a big chunk of a book by interviewing gays who had married and officiants who had blessed their unions. Such marriages were eventually honored by institutions outside as well as inside the gay community. By 1993, the list of companies that allowed domestic partners of the same sex to share benefits included Microsoft, Apple, HBO, Warner Bros., and Borders. By 2007, gay couples who wanted to get married at Disneyland were free to purchase the Fairy Tale Wedding package….

And so a social institution took hold: first among gays themselves, then in the larger community and marketplace. Finally the government took notice.

How did that evolution look in heterosexual America? Here's a "Dear Abby" letter from 1975, which some papers ran under the headline "Parents Disgusted by He-Man's Gay 'Marriage'":

Love is…
Arnold Lobel

DEAR ABBY: Our tall, handsome, athletic son served four years in the Navy, returned to civilian life and college, and "married" an undersized, effeminite male hairdresser. We have no idea how to handle this situation or our ambivalent feelings.

This "odd couple" came to visit us, and they want us to visit them. They are inseparable and act out a peculiar husband-wife relationship that is both bewildering and disturbing to us.

So far we have been polite, but what the dickens do you say to friends and relatives? We can't condone it.

We love this boy, but as his parents we feel torn and hypocritical to say the least.

Abby's brief reply: "You owe friends and relatives no explanation, so don't feel obligated to offer any. Since your son's lifestyle bewilders and disturbs you, either learn to accept it or quit seeing him."

Seven years later, Abby was more willing to push a parent toward accepting a gay son's relationship. In a 1982 letter, "Pennsylvania Mom" wrote:


DEAR ABBY: Two weeks ago I received a telephone call from my youngest son (29) who has been living in San Francisco for the last three years.

He told me that a priest had just married him to his friend, Jerry—another guy. He said he has never been happier in his life, and he asked me to tell everyone in the family about it.

So far I haven't told anybody because I'm not sure how some of our relatives will take it. For my part, I love my son, and all I want is for him to be happy.

Abby, is marriage between two men legal in California? This is a new one for me. And I would like to know what kind of "priest" would perform this kind of ceremony.

Abby replied: "Congratulations. You haven't lost a son, you've gained another son." She went on to explain that while gay marriages "are not legal anywhere," some clergy do "perform such ceremonies."

Some couples did try to get their marriages recognized by the state. Most famously, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis in 1970; in the ensuing case, Baker v. Nelson, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the men did not have a constitutional right to marry each other, declaring that marriage's status as "a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis." The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take on the case, though some legal scholars thought the petitioners deserved a hearing.

Not at stake: the right of heterosexuals to marry.
Jack Chick

Baker and McConnell weren't alone. A county clerk in Boulder issued marriage licenses to six same-sex couples in 1975, though Colorado's attorney general later ruled them invalid. (One of the Boulder unions was between an American and an Australian. When the latter tried to use his marriage license to establish legal residency in the United States, a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service informed him, "You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.") In 1983 the Pennsylvania courts heard an early gay divorce dispute. One man, citing a 1970 ceremony, claimed that he and his ex were common-law spouses and asked for alimony. His partner denied that their relationship had been a proper marriage. The court sided with the second groom.

The topic turned up in the legislative and executive branches, too. In 1977, Florida Gov. Reubin Askew signed a bill to ban gay marriage. Generally speaking, you don't prohibit something unless you think there's a good chance it will otherwise exist.


And yet the couples kept marrying, and with time more and more people accepted their unions as legitimate. That tolerance eventually took hold in governing bodies more powerful than a Colorado county clerk's office, and now the U.S. Supreme Court is tackling the topic. If the justices rule in favor of marriage equality, the history books will call it a landmark decision. And those history books will be right. But let's not forget all the events that came before the Supremes were willing to entertain the issue, and before any of today's political leaders took a stand.

NEXT: Greg Gutfeld: "Jim Carrey Has Killed More People Than All the Rifles Combined"

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  1. In the Nazy
    Yes, you can sail the seven seas
    In the Nazy
    Yes, you can put your mind at ease

    1. If I was in Village People, I’d be the Indian Chief.

  2. “Our tall, handsome, athletic son served four years in the Nazy”

    Dr. Freud and Mr. Godwin, please report to the pink courtesy phone.

    1. My typo, not Abby’s. I’ve fixed it.

      1. Didn’t think it was Abby.

  3. I find it suspicious that nobody attacks libertarians for supporting gay marriage, yet once -one- article is published on legalizing pot shit hits the fan.

    New theory: progressives just like sodomizing us one way or the other.

    1. Progressives don’t attack those who support using government force to redefine a word because using government force gives progressives wood.

      1. Aren’t you supposed to see a doctor if your erection lasts more than 4 hours or something though?

      2. This article provides good evidence that the word had been redefined already, without need for government force. Now the government should just recognize what is already reality or stop recognizing any marriages.

        1. the word had been redefined already

          Then why are people arguing about it?

          1. I don’t know. People like to argue?

            1. No they don’t, you dick!

        2. I’d say the article provides good evidence that the word had not been redefined already. “Gulliver” lampooned the law of precedents as, “What has been done once may be done again”, so that everyone seeks to rob the next person as quickly as possible. In reality, common law works only according to what judges decide, not what they merely acknowledge has been attempted.

    2. New theory: progressives just like sodomizing us one way or the other.

      You write that as if sodomy was a bad thing.

  4. Libertarians are so easily distracted by fags and pot. No wonder we can’t get any traction on issues that matter.

    1. It’s hard to focus on one issue when you’re subject to attack on multiple fronts; I think you might notice a common theme amongst opposition to various laws…

    2. Different issues matter more to some people than others.

    3. You can thank the War on Drugs for vast majority of the growth of the police state in the past 50 years. I’m sorry that I’ve been “distracted” by the complete evisceration of the 4th Amendment and the massive growth of Federal law enforcement.

      1. Pussy!


        1. You are what you eat!

    4. If you don’t own yourself (and consume whatever the hell you want) and you aren’t able to create and define your own relationships with willing parties, you aren’t free, so to libertarians, of course these are topics to dwell on.

      And they’re in the news a lot so clearly we’re not the only ones talking about them.

    5. Have to give this a B+ based on the number of regulars who have hooks in their mouths.

      1. I’d be a bit more charitable, A-.

        1. Dude, it’s The Iron Sheik! A+++ at least!

  5. Related. Good ridence to bad rubbish.…–92583/

    1. If they leave the GOP, where do they go? Do they start a new political party? Is that new party politically viable? I think it’s cool.

      1. I’ve been trying to funnel my SOCON parents into the Constitution Party for YEARS. They keep voting Republican though.

      2. I assume they’ll join their brothers in

        1. Meh, I always dislike the American Taliban concept. It creates the impression that SOCONS can’t be reasoned with (some can’t, some can) and it also dilutes how horrible the actual Taliban is.

          1. No, there’s an *exact* moral equivalence. No exaggeration at all.

            1. For you I’ll make an exception EvH: go back to Afghanistan!

              I tease. You can stay for now.

              There’s an argument to be made that American SOCONS and the Taliban are responding to similar stimuli in a similar way (enforcing a historical morality through government coercion), but the difference is in the scale.

              1. “There’s an argument to be made that American SOCONS and the Taliban are responding to similar stimuli in a similar way (enforcing a historical morality through government coercion), but the difference is in the scale.”

                There’s an argument that radical egalitarians and Chavista Communists are responding to similar stimuli in a similar way (enforcing their version of egalitariamism though government coercion), but the difference is in the scale.”

              2. There’s an argument to be made that American SOCONS and the Taliban are responding to similar stimuli in a similar way

                Actually the history of the Taliban is quite interesting, and nothing like the socons here. The Afghan government post the Russian war was corrupt and oppressive. The Taliban movement started out very popular, because they promised to clean up the government.

                It seems to be the tragedy of Muslim nations that they veer between corrupt thugocracies and theocratic dictatorships.

                1. The Taliban government was popular because they instituted the rule of law. The laws were religiously derived and harsh by western standards but were predictable which much better for the average Afghani than the trying to stay on the good side of the local corrupt thug with the most guns.

            2. Leave Louisiana to it’s devices for one year and they’d be hanging gays in football stadiums.

          2. They pretty much agree on everything but the sentence for the crime. Afghani Taliban suggest public hanging. American Taliban suggest felony conviction and imprisonment. Brothers not twins.

            1. No, most modern evangelicals are more enlightened than THOMAS JEFFERSON, who would have castrated people for sodomy. That’s more Talibanesque than all but a few fringe evangelicals. Instead, modern evangelicals are content to let gays call themselves what they want, so long as the government neither endorses their self-definition or forces it on bakers, wedding photogphers, tour companies, bed-and-breakfast owners, florists, etc., etc.

              The SSM crowd, in contrast, is happy to endorse the harassment of harmless florsts, B&B owners, etc. but it’s all OK because it’s done in the name of TOLERANZ!

              1. Jefferson’s proposed legislation of castration for sodomy was actually an attempt at reform. At the time, the penalty in Virginia for sodomy was death.

                1. TJ explained himself in the preamble of his proposed bill:

                  “And whereas the reformation of offenders, tho’ an object worthy the attention of the laws, is not effected at all by capital punishments, which exterminate instead of reforming, and should be the last melancholy resource against those whose existence is become inconsistent with the safety of their fellow citizens, which also weaken the state by cutting off so many who, if reformed, might be restored sound members to society, who, even under a course of correction, might be rendered useful in various labors for the public, and would be living and long continued spectacles to deter others from committing the like offences.

                  “And forasmuch the experience of all ages and countries hath shewn that cruel and sanguinary laws defeat their own purpose by engaging the benevolence of mankind to withold prosecutions, to smother testimony, or to listen to it with bias, when, if the punishment were only proportioned to the injury, men would feel it their inclination as well as their duty to see the laws observed.”

                  So he thought death was excessive as punishment for many crimes, and had the effect of shielding criminals, because merciful people wouldn’t want even a guilty person to be killed, so they would cover up the crime.

                  1. “Whosoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting thro’ the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least.

                    “But no one shall be punished for Polygamy who shall have married after probable information of the death of his or her husband or wife, or after his or her husband or wife hath absented him or herself, so that no notice of his or her being alive hath reached such person for 7. years together, or hath suffered the punishments before prescribed for rape, polygamy or sodomy.”


            2. I don’t doubt that there are outliers under the SOCON umbrella that are that rabid, but I don’t think everyone who is a SOCON is anywhere near that degree. If you ask the average person clinging to the talking point “no right to sodomy in the Constitution” if they believe that gays should be punished by law for consensual sex acts they’ll get weirded out and say “no, of course not”

              1. Wow, we agreed – mark the date, this is like one of those once-in-a-few centuries comets which won’t recur in our lifetimes.

                1. Don’t ruin it EvH, we probably agree on plenty, we’re just on opposite sides when it comes to the issues that really animate us.

            3. This sort of thing I wonder about all the time, not only about that sector but also of the “left” and any other “direction” that comes to mind. Given their head, would they all push things as far as conceivable, or would they decide at a certain point that it should go no farther — and how far is that point? There’s no way to pluck somebody from one environment and put hir into another magically, akin to the Probability Broach, so no way to tell on this point; the psychology experiments purporting to do so are unconvincing. Suffice it to say that people tend to not want to go far beyond their “surroundings” in any dimension.

      3. “Do they start a new political party? Is that new party politically viable?”

        It would not be viable on a national level. It could be at a local level though. Frankly though, the sooner the GOP can dump the socons the more viable the GOP’s future will look.

  6. Scalia: See, I told you so!

  7. An article in the HuffPo rejoices that private, for-profit businesses in gay-marriage states are forced against their will to recognize gay marriage:

    “Seeking financial profit, unlike inherently religious motivated activity, is not a fundamental constitutional value. The two should not be conflated. This is why every state that has enacted marriage equality rejected private business exemptions. Even the Republican dominated, Tea Party leaning, New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly killed for-profit public accommodations exemption legislation for marriage related services in 2012.”…..67630.html

    1. That’s a separate issue that already existed.

      1. The article was inspired by an SSM bill in Rhode Island, denouncing an exemption for private businesses which some legislators wanted to write into the law. And the article says specifically that “every state that has enacted marriage equality rejected private business exemptions.”

        But, yes, it’s a separate issue.

    2. A Maryland business, on advice of counsel, closes down its wedding services, at a cost of $50,000 per year, after Maryland voters approve SSM.

      “”The law exempts my minister from doing same-sex weddings, and the Knights of Columbus don’t have to rent out their hall for a gay wedding reception, but somehow my religious convictions don’t count for anything,” Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs wrote in an email.”…..-marriages

      1. “Grubbs…said his attorney advised him to shut down the wedding part of his business immediately because he could be sued for refusing services to same-sex couples.”

      2. See, that kind of stuff is garbage. Anyone providing marriage services should be allowed to decide who they can provide them for. Or should we expect a Synagogue to marry Catholics and Muslims?

        1. But, but…Profits!!!?!?!?!?

  8. “”It blew way out of proportion,” [florist] Stutzman explained. “I’ve had hate mail. I’ve had people that want to burn my building.”…

    “”Washington’s anti-discrimination law would not allow the florist to discriminate against the same-sex couple,” explained the office of the state attorney general. “If they sell wedding flowers to any other opposite sex couple, they must sell flowers to a same-sex couple.””…..l-wedding/

    1. I find it a bit odd that selling flowers to someone would violate any religious conviction, but I agree that it shouldn’t be illegal to refuse.

      But what does this guy think? That if he doesn’t have to sell them flowers they won’t be getting married? But hey, freedom includes freedom to be stupid.

      1. I am guessing that he thinks it is some form of endorsement or enabling of something he is rather religiously opposed to?

      2. “But what does this guy think?”

        You’re presuming he has that ability.

      3. I have no doubt that people at H&R would be able to make fun of *any* religious tradition:

        “So you drove off the Angel of Death by putting lamb’s blood on your doorposts? And you celebrate by baking unleavened bread? Bizarre!”

        “So this God of yours became a human being and then got resurrected? Bizarre!”

        “So you paint your faces in honor of a bunch of people who move a ball around a field? Bizarre!”

        The question is whether people have the *right* to believe these things, which entails of course a right to act on those beliefs.

        1. I think I made it clear that people have the right to act on whatever stupid beliefs they have. I just find the idea of a religious objection to selling some flowers to a couple of homos a pretty silly one, even among the silly things that religious people tend to believe (as you illustrated well above).

          1. Did you get my sports-fan joke?

      4. Ever hear of boycotts? Embargos? Withholding trade is a time-honored means of sending a message.

    2. And don’t get him started on mixed marriages!

      Yes, most libertarians think he should be able to deny services to anybody he wants, for any reason. So what? This is as dumb as Ann Coulter’s argument the other day, that libertarians shouldn’t talk about legalizing pot as long as the welfare state is in place.

  9. OK, maybe reason should give gay marriage a break for a bit. Starting to attract some flies.

    1. Buzzz!

      1. Well I’m a human fly it’s spelt F L Y
        I say buzz, buzz, buzz and it’s just becuzz
        I’m a human fly and I don’t know why
        I got ninety six tears in my ninety six eyes

        I got a garbage brain, it’s drivin’ me insane
        And I don’t like your ride, so push that pesticide
        And baby I won’t care, ‘cuz baby I don’t scare
        Cuz I’m a reborn maggot using germ warfare Rockin’

        I-I-I’m a human fly, i-i-it’s spelt F L Y
        I say buzz, buzz, buzz and it’s just becuzz
        I’m a unzipped fly and I don’t know why
        And I don’t know why but I say

        Buzz, ride tonight
        And I say buzz, rocket ride
        And I say buzz, I don’t know why
        I just don’t know why?

  10. “sometimes with ceremonies that look rather marital to modern eyes.”

    I first read that as martial and all I could think of was “Huh, some sort of Theban ‘Sacred Band’ ceremony?”

  11. ” it’s worth remembering that for countless people, same-sex marriage in the ’80s?and earlier?was a day-to-day reality”

    No actually it wasn’t, and you sound like an asshole trying to pretend otherwise.

    They weren’t married. It’s not a minor distinction.

  12. Is it just me, or does one of those cartoons look like 2 tiny bears, one with a picnic basket, sitting on the back of someone who’s face down in a puddle?

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