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Gay Marriage: From Stonewall to Albany

Posted on Jun 27, 2011
AP / Louis Lanzano

Revelers celebrate in front of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s West Village following passage of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New York.

By Larry Gross

(Page 3)

Since his election, Obama has played a game all too familiar to minorities dealing with the Democratic Party. Like Clinton before him, Obama claims to be a supporter of GLBT rights—a “fierce advocate” is the term he has used—especially when he is seeking to raise money from gay people, but he has offered platitudes rather than action on key issues. In some ways the Obama administration has done more than most for GLBT folks, but it has measured out its efforts in small doses, treated minor changes as major accomplishments and refused to confront the central moral issues head on. 

The biggest achievement under this administration, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was pushed through only after gay activists raised the ante by acts of widely publicized civil disobedience; and implementation of the repeal is still not under way.

Simply put, if one is committed to fundamental equality, and to the constitutional separation of church and state, then there is no basis for perpetuating inequality in marriage, military service or any other domain of the public sphere. Full legal equality should not require everyone to make the same choices—whether to marry, join the military, or any other life decision—but it does mean that everyone should be free to make such choices if they wish.

President Obama says that his position on marriage equality is “evolving”—although given his 1996 statement it might be said to have devolved—and it is not entirely cynical to imagine that this evolutionary process might reach a conclusion sometime after the 2012 election. After all, former President Clinton, whose wife may still harbor presidential ambitions, now says that he favors same-sex marriage. 


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While Bill Clinton’s newfound support for marriage equality may be relevant to a future Hillary campaign or perhaps to his own final, unannounced campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize, there are real stakes involved for American rights.

New York’s action last week is an important step in the struggle for marriage equality, as New York is by far the biggest and more important state to achieve this through legislative action, and it suggests that politicians are reading the tea leaves in a new light. Recent nationwide polls show a slender public majority now favoring marriage equality, and this may have contributed to the decision by a few Republicans to vote for the bill in Albany. But more important than the simple poll numbers are the demographic details. This is an issue whose outcome can be read in the breakdowns by age.  According to a recent Pew Research study, voters who are 65 or older oppose gay marriage by a 58-24 margin, but voters who are between 18 and 29 support gay marriage by a 52-40 margin.

The next, and crucial, stage in the fight for marriage equality is the repeal of the odious Defense of Marriage Act, which stands as a barrier against the realization of the gains made so far in achieving marriage rights in a handful of states. The most important legal consequences—and benefits—conferred by marriage are those enshrined in federal law. The General Accounting Office issued a report in 1997 identifying 1,049 federal statutory provisions in which benefits, rights and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. The Obama administration has declared that DOMA is unconstitutional and that it will not defend the act in court; Republican Speaker John Boehner responded by saying the House would hire a lawyer to do so. However, Obama has not made repeal of DOMA a priority and there has been no coordinated effort to do so, even while the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

Marriage equality is only one of the important arenas in the fight for full equality. Despite years of effort, only 20 states and the District of Columbia offer legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (or, in 12 of these states and D.C., gender identity). Various incarnations of federal non-discrimination legislation have been launched but none have yet succeeded in passing either house of Congress. The simplest and most effective step, of course, would be the simple addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected categories listed under the U.S. Civil Rights Act, but neither party has advocated so obvious a measure. 

The tide of history, and demography, is on the side of equality for gay folks. The Republican Party seems to be staking its strategy on intransigence and catering to the right. 

Obama, here as elsewhere, is unwilling to demonstrate moral leadership. Speaking in New York at a GLBT fundraiser the day before the New York Legislature voted, he took a “states rights” position on this civil rights issue: “Traditionally marriage has been decided by the states and right now I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York,” he said to laughter. New York’s lawmakers, he said, are “doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do.” The president, however, was not doing what leaders are supposed to do. Within 24 hours of the dinner at which Obama spoke, Albany legislators, including several Republicans, demonstrated more moral integrity than the president of the United States.  The question remains whether, and when, he will catch up.

Larry Gross is the director of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, one of the founders of queer studies and a scholar of art, media, and the portrayal of minorities.

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By Ehrenstein, June 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm Link to this comment

No YOu work your brain harder, dear.

Larry brought up “Donal Webster Cor” in his essay. But he didn’t tell the whole story of this gay Jeckyl/Hyde. It’s as relavant now as it was when Sagarin finally unmasked himself. (Go “Google”)

“Legally relevant” inspires only laughter in a gay man like myself. I’m 64 year-old. The better part of those years my very existence was completely ilegal.
Can you wrap your tiny mind around that?

Get back to me if and when you do.

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By Arouete, June 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm Link to this comment

@ yrscrewed, You are totally correct for all the reasons I have said here. I think you are also legally correct about the “forgotten” Ninth Amendment too but sadly it’s a legal dead letter - never been successfully evoked – not ever. Not even once. Perhaps it is time? But no problem, the 1st and 14th will suffice.  Great to see all Americans are not bubblegum chewing legal dunderheads who can so easily have the proverbial wool pulled over their infamous eyes.

@ Ehrenstein. Thanks but the link is too cryptic and too much of a needle in a haystack. What are you trying to say?  A clue please. And you totally miss the very astute point of yrscrewed. Work your brain harder, s/he has something very legally relevant to say. Of course we won but you don’t seem to be able to follow yrscrewed’s point farther then a civic center pigeon can fly.

@ diman, As I and yrscrewed point out there is far more here than can be grasped by one-dimensional a pea-shooter brain.

@ Bruce Bethany: Thanks I truly laughed out loud. Very on point. Whenever I see the bar owners hitting the community for a $5.00 cover (drink not included) to purportedly raise money for AIDS or civil rights I run, do not walk, the other way. All tax free and unaccountable cash of course. Ask for transparency? Show us exactly what you took in and where it went? Fuggetaboutit! Given the damages they have done to this community by exploiting sex and profiting off of bigotry I’d dammed well think they’d cough up a lot more conscience money after all the livers they have rotted. 

The companion piece here is interesting but the bar owners could not hope for better PR shill propaganda. These scumbags are no civil rights heroes. They are no different than the “colonialists” the Black Panthers burned out of the hoods as the community chanted “bury baby burn!” Painting them as civil rights heroes or even sanctuaries makes me want to vomit. Not much has changed since Larry Kramer wrote “Faggots” which is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.

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By Ehrenstein, June 29, 2011 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

“This has nothing to do with “Civil Rights.”  My concern is with the Bill of Rights not with the right to marry anyone.  Get over it already.”

No, YOU get over it. WE WON—LIVE WITH IT !!!!

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By Ehrenstein, June 29, 2011 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

Nice round-up, Larry. But you forgot to tell the FULL story of “Donald Webster Cory”

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By yrscrewed, June 29, 2011 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

All marriage laws by the states were discriminatory, was this bill any better?  All Homosexuals could marry anyone they wanted to in a “Church” same as [what] they called straight.  So Homosexuals are [crooked] and Heterosexuals are [straight], I never got that one but it seems to derogatory toward the Homosexuals.  I don’t know it just seems that way. 

Marriage laws were instituted by the south to prevent inter-racial marriages. Although a Marriage contract is nothing more than a contract.  There were no laws against this particular contract because it could have been done in private with the parties thereto.

So what they have the right to contract!

This has nothing to do with “Civil Rights.”  My concern is with the Bill of Rights not with the right to marry anyone.  Get over it already. 

Besides the 9th Amendment is the one that should protect all the Homosexuals and everyone else.

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By diman, June 29, 2011 at 6:00 am Link to this comment

And who are you kidding people, the bill is not about equality in a broader social sense, it is all about ability to put your spouse on your company’s health insurance plan, so sad that even the most noble and socially just causes fall prey to the realities of the capitalist predatory society.

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By diman, June 29, 2011 at 5:55 am Link to this comment

By RenZo:

“This is but one small step in the fulfillment of real civil rights for Americans. The next steps are food, education and healthcare for all. All… as in Every One.
Don’t stop here”

Actually, no, not the universal health-care, food and education, things that are 100 times more important than two gays getting legally married, the right to adopt children, this is what is going to be next.

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By Bruce Bethany, June 28, 2011 at 5:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was around in the Stonewall era in Greenwich
Village. I’m not gay, but I’d like to set the record
straight. The Stonewall was one of several gay
bars in the area, all owned and run by the
Mafia.The clients of these joints were ripped of
unmercifully, paying double for watered down
booze to have a place to cruise and meet others
of their persuasion. New York laws at the time
prohibited bars from serving gays. I worked in a
Village bar where the police would send an
undercover cop to entrap some guy and then
threaten to close down the bar. The solution? A
heavy payoff to get off the hook. The gay bars
run by the mob were immune because there
was systemic corruption involving the police at
every level. The Stonewall should not be a
symbol of Gay Liberation. It was a ghetto of gay

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By John, June 28, 2011 at 2:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@ Arouete: All well-said.  I totally agree and thanks for the links. This article does fine till he gets to Obama and then we arrive on four flat tires. Then again the name Annenberg was never a name I associated with intellectual integrity or honesty in advertising. Just goes to show that pelf can buy anything.

If saccharine sycophants and pandering pettifogs could fly that ballroom would surely have been an airport.  Pretty disgraceful isn’t it? The ‘states’ rights’ rubbish is right out of the Reagan play book. And still politicians can get away with that crap. That’s what happens when we so slash education we have already dumbed it down.

Unlike the so-called civil rights lawyer Obama I actually practiced law, *in the courts* for decades and you are correct. If any attorney tells you that ‘equal protection’ of the law and ‘fundamental’ rights are matters of ‘states rights’, that such rights may be subject to a vote, or that respect for deeply held religious beliefs are a legitimate reason to abrogate those rights when clerics act in a secular capacity as public officials, then you should know one thing for sure: you are being bamboozled by a fast-talking a shyster and a pettifog. Any attorney who so advises his client arguably commits malpractice and better make sure their E & O insurance is paid up. 

This is Kabuki Theater and I presume Obama would, privately,  have agree with all you and your terrific links have said. He knows perfectly well that this is an issue that SCOTUS will have to decide for ALL states. But when people like him are given an affirmative action leg-up and special access to superior education only to use it to exploit ignorance I find it deeply, deeply, troubling.  It presents serious ethical issues when any attorney makes such statements. Turn your back and RUN (do not walk) the other way. Which is *exactly* what I did. 

His ‘states rights’ rubbish is disgrace to his own mixed race-parents who were married under such Jim Crow laws and had to live in California or Hawaii till Loving flushed the same ‘states rights’ nonsense down the legal toilet where it belongs.

Frankly I thought I was going to vomit.  There he was feeding intellectual and legal rubbish to a room full of “educated” people, many of whom were lawyers or hold themselves out as “advocates” as he sucked out their money, and there was nary a bubble of pretest - not one pathetic whimper. Not even one!

I could not have thought of a better, more prefect example, of the gutless Versailles courtiers of the bankrupt liberal class that Chris Hedges has passionately slammed. I figured if these gutless ‘Gucci-shoed bubble-gum liberals’ (love the choice of words btw!) want to sit there and suck up that kind of despicable legal doggerel then let them. When they are betrayed, they can not cry ‘victim’ but should go off in a corner and lick their self-inflicted wounds.  I was out-the-door.

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By Arouete, June 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment

And I will apologize to you. You did a great job on both articles.

I am just so tired of hearing that same rubbish that should not get past a second year law student. We are now TWO decades into this marriage issue and it is still possible for politicians (so-called ‘civil rights lawyers’ no less!) to get away with cavalierly tossing over the same legal insults.  And NO ONE calls them out! This is thanks to our sycophant “Gucci-shoed” LGBT self-anointed ‘leadership” that have so failed miserably in their duty to educate that they have left us with a loose confederacy of vapid bubble-gum dunces.

As the Bay Area Reporter opined years ago, “If one of Obama’s law students gave his answer on a right to marry hypothetical s/he’d deservedly flunk the exam and might better serve the interests of justice by selling shoes at Macy’s.”

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By Arouete, June 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm Link to this comment

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”  (Janet Malcolm)

Where does propaganda stop and journalism begin? Again thank you. This is a rather good nutshell summary - until you really blew it. Journalism is more than he said / she said. And this is a LEGAL not a MORAL issue. Can we please talk about the LAW and stop begging the EASY question.

“Obama, ... is unwilling to demonstrate moral leadership. ... he took a “states rights” position on this civil rights issue: “Traditionally marriage has been decided by the states and right now I understand there’s a little debate going on here in New York,” he said to laughter.”

The statement is worthy of outage. If sycophants could fly that room was an airport. Where is the outrage?! Laughter? It should have been ridicule.  This is legal no-brainer. “Traditionally marriage has been decided by the states”? “States rights”? Rubbish!  Claptrap! Balderdash! WHERE ARE THE ACTIVISTS? WHO has the audacity to ask this so called civil rights lawyer what part of Loving v.Virginia he doesn’t get? 

Thanks for the wonderful bibliography and beg-the-question editorial however this is not a question of “moral leadership” but basic law - the man is a so-called civil rights lawyer! This is right from the pen of a “courtier.” (are you reading Chris Hedges?) 

Sorry but here is where you fall down as a journalist. (Are you reading Chris Hedges?!) When are pundits going to do their substantive homework? This argument should not get past second year law student. Why do activists suck up such same tired segregationist garbage and pander to pettifogs? 

See “Untangling Barack Obama’s audacious mumbo jumbo” at This guy got the legal dynamic down rock solid years ago! Never refuted because it’s factually and legally irrefutable.

See also “New York Marriage Equality Law Violates Federal Constitution” at

And see “Mr. President: Just say ‘No!’ to Gay Jim Crow.” at

Where is the outrage? I don’t mean to be disrespectful of your effort but I am sooo tired of smarmy politician pettifogs and vapid propagandists who have nothing of substance to offer but just dishing out and rehashing the sameol sameol.

Again, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”  (Janet Malcolm)

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By Arouete, June 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

@ jmunro43, Thanks for the Democracy Now link - I missed it. To answer the question: No, it is not a Sign the GOP Aims to Leverage Gay Support in 2012? As this article at salon points out there is still the same canker in the rose. See “New York Marriage Equality Law Violates Federal Constitution”

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By Arouete, June 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment

An excellent report thanks. Very informative.

See also “New York Marriage Equality Law Violates Federal Constitution” at

A very interesting analysis. Talk about drilling beneath the headlines! The Salon article is the best legal analysis I’ve seen. And no the writer is no relation.

I must say, some of the comments I’ve reviewed in response to this superb Truthdig article are deeply troubling. Of course, only those cowards and bullies assured of anonymity would dare make such scurrilous remarks in a public forum. I suspect even they would be deeply ashamed if their identity became known.  Such trolls are like cockroaches: shine a light on them and they scurry and hide under the toilet from whence they came. Of course, this is the problem with the First Amendment: we must all tolerate a lot of excrement.

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By Paul, June 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks Mr. Gross for an excellent report.

I must say, some of the depraved responses are rather unsettling.

But there is another dynamic here that readers might want to consider and this writer’s analysis really blew me away. See “New York Marriage Equality Law Violates Federal Constitution” at

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By John, June 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@rollzone “i have nothing against f*aggots
having rights, but not at the expense of marriage.”

WOW! I had no idea Truthdig attracts such depraved readers. This bigot with a pea-shooter has the manners of a barn-yard animal and the social skills of Jared Lee Loughner. Really scarry. Let’s hope this guy is on the no fly list. What rock does this creep live under?

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By RenZo, June 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment

@ roll(over)zone (under me, right here)
What does “at the expense of marriage” mean, practically.
Oh…..and has any human ever consented (without violence ahead of time) to combining DNA with you to produce “a new life that bonds you for life”?
Were you and the human married?
Was a hybrid produced?
Thank you.

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By Stuffed Animal, June 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder why Leftists, who would never dream of calling the movement for African-American Civil Rights “nigger activism”, are so eager to slap the word “queer” on anything involving the Gay Rights movement?  It’s ignorant and offensive.  Larry Gross, and all his Q-word loving colleagues should be ashamed of themselves; they are unwitting (or witting?) tools of the heterosexist status quo.  Like our oppressors, they insist on labeling gender non-conforming people with insulting terminology.  And I’m not just talking about Straight people here: LGBT folk who try to normalize hate speech are no better than the hetero-bigots.

Also, Mr. Gross doesn’t know his Gay (not queer) history!  The LGBT Rights movement was pioneered around the turn of the 20th century in Europe, particularly in Germany.  The first real Gay activist was probably Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who was later persecuted by Hitler for his advocacy.  Ignorance is definitely not bliss; anybody who writes about the equality struggle should care enough to research its origins.  They should at least care enough to speak of LGBT folk with respect.

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By RenZo, June 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

I didn’t think ahead when I moved back to Albany, NY seven years ago, but now that I have, I have a reason to stay here. It was never before on my agenda, but I will now consider all reasonable offers of matrimony…..
This is but one small step in the fulfillment of real civil rights for Americans. The next steps are food, education and healthcare for all. All… as in Every One.
Don’t stop here.

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By jmunro43, June 27, 2011 at 10:27 am Link to this comment

This legislation is a definite step forward. How big of a step is now in the hands of
the 44 states that haven’t yet legalized same-sex marriage, but regardless, New
York has done it’s part for now in the fight for equal marriage rights. I don’t know
what will happen now, but Democracy Now! did a better job than I can of
analyzing the political implications of the decision, check it out:

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