Forty years before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, with Justice Anthony Kennedy declaring that marriage is a fundamental right that may not be denied to same-sex couples, reason Editor Lynn Kinsky was urging libertarians to be on the vanguard of fighting for equality for gay people. "The marriage laws are obviously discriminatory and thereby deny to homosexual couples legal benefits granted to heterosexual marrieds," she wrote in our September 1975 issue.
Kinsky's editorial celebrated an early victory for gay rights: the passage of A.B. 489, a California law "decriminalizing all privately performed sexual acts between consenting adults." As she pointed out, the practical effect of the measure was that gay people "could finally legally have a sex life free from the threat that a nosey landlord, inquisitive cop or some other person out to save homosexuals from themselves could have them arrested for physically expressing their love for a friend."
Back then, Americans were not just opposed to allowing gay couples to marry—they were evenly divided on whether "relations" between consenting adults of the same gender should even be legal, according to Gallup. It wasn't until the late '90s that a majority of Americans began to say that homosexuality should be considered "an acceptable alternative lifestyle," and it wasn't until this decade that a majority came to support same-sex marriage.
Along the way, the July 1996 reason featured a piece subtitled "Gay marriage is better," which described conservative concerns about the practice as "the lamest sort of moralizing I have yet to encounter." In the December issue of that year, reason's Nick Gillespie called the Defense of Marriage Act—which prohibited the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriage licenses a state might choose to issue—"a misguided attempt to define for all time an institution that is constantly, if slowly, evolving."
As Kinsky pointed out in her editorial, "a libertarian society will have to be a tolerant society, since not initiating force against your neighbors means that you are willing to let them live as they please no matter how alien their life style is to yours, as long as they aren't initiating force against you."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Long Fight for Marriage Equality".
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.