From 1961 to 2012: Today’s Victories Were A Long Time Coming

Jim Burroway

November 7th, 2012

Fifty-one years ago today, José Sarria, a drag performer at San Francisco’s famed Black Cat bar, lost his bid for election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Desite the loss, his election was historic as an openly gay candidate stood for election for the first time. Sarria earned nearly 6,000 votes, putting him in nineth place city-wide in a contest for five at-large seats. Ninth out of thirty-four, which mean that, as Sarria later recalled, “From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community.”

Fifty-one years later, the long-unimaginable happened. A president ended a ban on gays in the military, ordered his Justice Department to stop defending the DOMA, and announced his full support for the rights of everyone to marry. He was re-elected, against a candidate who was against all of those things. Five openly gay candidates for Congress won their races, and for the first time, a lesbian will sit in the Senate. In none of those races were the candidates’ sexual orientation a major issue.

And after voters in 31 states voted to add bans on same-sex marriage to their state constitutions, Minnesota voters stopped the tide and refused to write discrimination into their organizing document. But that’s not all. Voters in three states (assuming the victory in Washington holds) have gone much further than ever before. Citizens in Maine, Maryland and Washington have given their approval to allow their gay and leasbian neighbors to actually begin marrying in the next couple of months. They didn’t just say no to a permanent ban while existing laws continued to prevent gay people from marrying. They changed existing law so that those marriages can take place.

And they did that at the ballot box. Remember how our opponents always said that every time voters weighted in on marriage , they always voted to deny marriage equality? No more. I would love to be sitting in the offices at the Family “Research” Council and National Organization for Marriage right now. They have seen their era end right before their eyes. But make no mistake: they will also steadfastly refuse to acknowledge its importance.

Right now, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. By the end of January, two and probably three more states will join them. But in the best case, less than 16% of Americans will live in states with marriage equality. Yes, that’s nearly a third higher now, but it just goes to show how far we still have to go.

It will be generations, I think, before we can win marriage equality throughout the U.S. at the ballot box. In fact, there are some states where that will never happen; it will also take some key court victories before all Americans are created equal. We will undoubtedly experience more losses and setbacks in the years ahead. But every great movement moves forward one step at a time. This was a big step, but it is only the latest one in a long line of just putting one foot in front of the other. We’ve been doing that for more than half a century. But right now it feels pretty good, now that we’re starting to get the hang of it.


November 7th, 2012


You wrote “it will also take some key court victories before all Americans are created equal. ”

I would have to disagree with you. We Americans are already created equal; we simply are not TREATED equal.

Otherwise, fully agree with you.



November 7th, 2012

Democrats also held Iowa State Senate so no chance of anti-SSM referendum there until at least 2018, which means it probably will never happen.

Mark Cross

November 7th, 2012

Thanks for the post; the editor in me wants to point out that it is “tide” not “tied”.

Jim Burroway

November 7th, 2012

I guess the spell-checker missed that, didn’t it?


November 7th, 2012

Don’t forget that if the Supreme Court passes on Prop 8, California will have same-sex marriage (again), possibly as soon as December… so (fingers crossed in CA and WA) that’s 10 states and a district with marriage equality in the US totaling 87 million people– 28% of the national population. A big deal.


November 7th, 2012

Part of me wants to find every anti-gay person in the nation and gloat. The bigger part of me is savoring the results of yesterday’s election as one more step in the nation living up to the promises of the DofI and the Constitution.

And a part of me is delirious that the nation can not be bought with huge amounts of money and ugliness and lies.

Lindoro Almaviva

November 7th, 2012

In fact, there are some states where that will never happen

Not so. at one point or another the SCOTUS will be forced to take on the issue because of the inequal way that we are treated from state t0 state.

At one point, the SCOTUS wull have to decide whether it is OK for SC to prevent their gay citizens to marry while NY is OK while at the same tim IN remains inactive on the issue.

At some point the SCOTUS will have the take on the issue that in NY they call is marriage while somewhere else they call it “Civil union”, with all the segregationist implications that brings.

To be honest, I think we have enough to bring a federal class action suit that will legalize marriage accross the USA. the only think we are waiting for is the person with balls of steel to take on the fight.

That day, we will be ale to marry no matter what state we are in, and there is nothing that NOM or any of their friends will be ale to do about it.


November 7th, 2012

If you compare marriage equality for Same Sex couples to the inter-racial marriage, you will see that when Loving v. Virginia passed, only around 20% of Americans approved of inter-racial marriage. But national polls show that same sex marriages are approved by a plurality, if not an outright majority.

it is also the case that in 2011, there were still a number of people (ca 15%) who disapprove of inter-racial marriage.

The trend lines for approval of SSM actually track pretty well with inter-racial marriage trends in terms of the slope. The difference? By the time they got to our levels, inter-racial marriages had been legal for over 20 years.

I figure we need a few more states to be decisive electorally, and then a suit will come against Clause TWO of DOMA (it’s only 3 under challenge now). And hopefully we will have the court to overturn it.

Mark F.

November 7th, 2012

“If you compare marriage equality for Same Sex couples to the inter-racial marriage, you will see that when Loving v. Virginia passed, only around 20% of Americans approved of inter-racial marriage. But national polls show that same sex marriages are approved by a plurality, if not an outright majority.”

There is a difference between disapproving of something and thinking that it should be illegal, so I question whether 80% of the populastion really thought interracial marriages should be illegal at the time of Loving.

Mark F.

November 7th, 2012

Even without court action, I am confident that even the citizens of Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma will be okay with same sex marriage in 2032. It won’t be “generations.”

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