Gay Rights Timeline: A Look Back At the Past 50 Years


While there is a long record of homosexual marriage in world history, the United States has had a very short relationship with marriage equality for the LGBT (etc.) community. With the Supreme Court cases deciding the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 on everyone's mind, we should take a look back at the path that brought us here.

April 1965: The first protest by gays and lesbians occurred outside the White House.

1966: The first gay student organization was formed at Columbia University.

June 28, 1969: The conventional start date of the gay rights movement began here with the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village. Police harassment of gays triggered riots when unlicensed gay bar the Stonewall Inn was raided.

1970: The first gay pride parades were held in four major U.S. cities on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In the same year, the first homosexual marriage in the U.S. is attempted in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Jack Baker and Michael McConnell. Their marriage is denied by Minnesota's highest court, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was declined.

1977: Harvey Milk (shown in the 2008 biopic Milk), an openly gay politician in San Francisco, was elected to the city board of supervisors. He was assassinated less than a year later.

1981: The beginning of the AIDS epidemic prompts the creation of gay advocacy groups to fight the slow government response to the crisis as well as public perception linking the disease to gay men. This criticism of the government was later documented in the 1987 best-selling Randy Shilts book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic.

1982: Two men in Georgia are arrested by police for practicing sodomy consensually, in the privacy of their own home in a case that eventually went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick by a 5-4 vote that sodomy laws could stay in place. That decision wasn't reversed for 15 years.

1987: Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) came out publicly as gay.

1989: Internationally, Denmark becomes the first modern state in the world to enact registered partnership laws for homosexual couples (domestic partnerships).

1993: Don't Ask, Don't Tell is signed into law by President Bill Clinton, allowing homosexuals to serve in the military so long as they remain in the closet. While regarded as backwards piece of legislation now, it was a moderate step forward at the time, considering gays were actively prohibited from serving in the military before that point.

1996: DOMA, currently under judicial review, is passed. This measure ensured that gay marriages from a state need not be recognized as legal by other states or the federal government.

2000: Vermont legalizes civil unions for gay couples, the first state in the country to do so. In the same year, the Supreme Court rules that the Boy Scouts of America are allowed as a private club to ban gay scouts.

2003: The Supreme Court finally strikes down anti-sodomy laws, reversing its decision from Bowers v. Hardwick.

2004: Massachusetts and California begin to allow gay marriage, though the California Supreme Court later nullifies those certificates. Later that year, 13 states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, in order to preempt any judicial or legislative action legalizing it. That number has risen to 31 states as of 2013.

2007: Domestic partnerships and civil unions gain traction, being passed in New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington State.

2008: The fight over California continues, as the Supreme Courts of California and Connecticut legalize same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 shortly followed, a referendum that overturned that decision. The California Supreme Court upheld the referendum.

2012: Not only does the first sitting U.S. president in history come out in favor of same-sex marriage, but voters in Maryland, Maine, and Washington all approve referendums in support of same-sex marriage. This is the first set of cases where gay marriage won at the voters' box, and indicates the switch in public opinion in a relatively short time from overwhelmingly disapproving of gay marriage to favoring it. Since then, a slew of politicians and celebrities have endorsed the movement.