Gay rights timeline


Major social, political, and religious milestones on the road to marriage equality.


1970s: Out of the Closet

Emergence of political movements demanding an end to discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians. States begin repealing laws that criminalized homosexual behavior.

Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village (1969) launches modern gay-rights movement. First meeting of “Parents and Friends of Gays” (1972); goes national as PFLAG (1981). American Psychiatric Association declares homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder (1973). Kathy Kozachenko, elected to Ann Arbor city council, first openly gay or lesbian person elected to public office in the United States (1974). Gay activist Harvey Milk, elected to San Francisco board of supervisors, murdered alongside Mayor George Moscone in City Hall (1978). First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (1979) draws more than 100,000 people.

Metropolitan Community Church, now a denomination of 300 Christian congregations serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, founded in Los Angeles (1968). UUA opens Office of Gay Concerns (1975) after three General Assembly resolutions; some UU ministers begin performing same-sex ceremonies. General Convention of the Episcopal Church declares homosexuals “have a full and equal claim . . . upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976).

1980s: AIDS and National Attention

AIDS becomes a major calamity in the gay and bisexual community, but doesn't become a mainstream news story until actor Rock Hudson's death from AIDS in 1985.

Named “AIDS” (1982); Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) discovered (1983); by 1992, AIDS kills 229,205 in the United States. Berkeley, Calif., passes domestic partnership bill granting equal benefits to long-term same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples (1984). Becky Smith and Annie Afleck first openly lesbian couple granted legal, joint adoption of a child (1986). Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) upholds Georgia's sodomy law, a devastating setback for gay rights. ACT UP founded (1987), rejuvenating gay, lesbian, and bisexual activism. Second March on Washington draws more than 200,000; introduces AIDS Memorial Quilt (1987). Denmark first nation to legalize same-sex unions (1989).

First same-sex “celebration of commitment” performed by a Quaker congregation (1981); some Quaker meetings extend “marriage” to same-sex couples (1986). UUA General Assembly affirms ministers who perform same-sex “services of union” (1984). General Synod of the United Church of Christ encourages all UCC churches to become “Open and Affirming” (1985); “reconciling church” movements begin in the United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian USA, and other mainline Protestant denominations, although none receives full denominational support. UUA begins “Welcoming Congregation” program (1989).

1990s: Political Advances and Defeats

Gay rights moves into mainstream American politics; gay culture makes inroads into mainstream consciousness. Backlash follows.

Gay rights legislation passes in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin (1992). The 1993 March on Washington draws several hundred thousand people. “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” becomes law after President Clinton's vow to end discrimination in the military falters (1993). Minnesota passes anti-discrimination law protecting transsexual and transgender people along with gay and lesbian people (1993). Hawaii Supreme Court rules (1993) that denying a wedding license on the basis of gender may violate equal protection rights; legislature restricts marriage to a man and a woman in response (1994). Federal Defense of Marriage Act (1996). Supreme Court rules in Roemer v. Evans (1996) that Colorado cannot prohibit local gay rights ordinances, a major legal victory. San Francisco enacts domestic partner registration (1996). The full AIDS quilt—the size of 43 football fields—displayed on the Washington Mall (1996). Matthew Shepard murdered in Wyoming (1998). Vermont Supreme Court rules that the state must grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples (1999); the state enacts “civil union” legislation the next year.

Angels in America wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama (1992); Tom Hanks wins Academy Award for his depiction of a gay lawyer dying of AIDS in Philadelphia (1993); Roseanne kiss (1994); Ellen (1994–1998), Will & Grace (1998–present) introduce gay leading characters on TV.

UUA General Assembly calls for legal recognition of same-sex marriage (1996); Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform Judaism) supports right of same-sex couples “to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage” (1996).

2000s: Gay Marriage on the Horizon

Netherlands first country to extend marriage to same-sex couples (2001); Belgium follows (2002); Canadian provinces British Columbia and Ontario begin marrying same-sex couples (2003).

California (Sept. 2003) and New Jersey (Jan. 2004) enact domestic-partner laws; Ohio becomes 38th state to ban same-sex marriage (Feb. 2004). Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that same-sex couples cannot constitutionally be excluded from marriage (Nov. 2003); legislature debates amending constitution to ban same-sex marriage (Feb., March 2004). In February, San Francisco begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and sues the state for recognition, prompting several other mayors and county officials in the United States to issue licenses or simply marry same-sex couples without licenses; mayors of Chicago, Salt Lake City express support for idea of same-sex marriage; President Bush reacts by supporting U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. On May 17, the first legally recognized wedding licenses will be granted to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elects the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop (2003).

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