Gay Marriage in the '80s

An interesting snippet of cultural history.


Over at Bleeding-Heart Libertarians, Sarah Skwire mentions a law in Indiana—passed long ago but getting renewed attention today—that says

a person who "knowingly solemnizes a marriage of individuals who are prohibited from marrying" can be hit with a 180-day jail sentence or $1,000 fine….

[I]f my mom lived in Indiana she would be a felon.

Ordained by the Unitarian Universalist church in 1980, Mom performed same sex unions from the earliest years of her ministry, and so did nearly all of her colleagues. The same is true for many of Mom's clerical colleagues of other faiths. Rabbis from the Reform Jewish movement have solemnized or blessed same sex unions for decades, as have ministers from a wide range of Christian traditions. Depending on how strictly one interprets the law's use of the words "solemnized" and "marriage," every one of those ceremonies could have been a felony.

There is some discussion in the BHL comment thread about whether such ceremonies do in fact "solemnize" a marriage in the legal sense, and I think Skwire's critics make a strong case that her mother would not in fact be a felon in Indiana. But my reason for linking to this isn't the author's claim about the law; it's her comments about cultural history.

Skwire's memories of her mother underline a point that I've made frequently on this site: Contrary to the chatter you hear in some quarters, gay marriage was not invented by social engineers and imposed on an unwilling country. It was invented by gay people themselves, who started getting married without anyone's permission; their unions gradually gained acceptance in American communities and in the marketplace before state or federal governments were willing to recognize them. It is a classic example of grassroots social evolution, and it has a much longer history than even some supporters of same-sex marriage seem to realize.

Further reading: "The Long History of Gay Marriage," "All in the Gay Family," and "Disney Legalizes Same-Sex Unions."