And then came the demand for gay marriage. At first many gay progressives (including me) frowned on this initiative, since it seemed only one more example of assimilation. But we began to see that it was a cause worth fighting for. If bigots oppose gay marriage so vehemently, it must be because marriage is a defining institution for them; gays will never be fully accepted until they can marry and adopt, like anyone else. It also seemed frivolous to object to same-sex marriage on any grounds, since permitting it would have a direct positive impact on countless ordinary families. As the lawyers David Boies and Theodore Olson put it in Redeeming the Dream:
We had said from the beginning that we intended to prove three things: first, that marriage was a fundamental right; second, that denying gay and lesbian citizens the right to marry seriously harmed them and the children they were raising; third, that same-sex marriage did not harm heterosexual marriage.
The culmination of a long struggle was 2013, which could clearly be labeled the Year of the Gay. State after state had legalized gay marriage, despite intense opposition from the religious right. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down by the Supreme Court; as a result, legally married same-sex couples, no matter where they were living, could file federal taxes jointly, even retroactively. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the antigay policy of the armed forces, had been reversed in 2011. The Boy Scouts caved: gay boys can now become Scouts (though openly gay adults cannot become Scout leaders). In France (despite a surprisingly active opposition) marriage equality was legalized, as it was in many South American countries. The claims of conversion therapy, which had promised to turn gays straight, were renounced, even outlawed in some places.
Gays were never so visible—in politics, on television, on Facebook. It was no longer on to be discriminating against lesbians or gays. Comedians publicly apologized for using the f— word in a moment of anger. And gays were so prevalent they were becoming much more choosy about politicians; the openly lesbian New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn lost the gay vote to Bill de Blasio (whose black wife proudly announced that she had been a lesbian before her marriage).
AIDS had won gays sympathy; they no longer seemed the privileged brats that the general populace had resented in the 1970s. The disease had willy-nilly outed gays of all social classes and colors; whereas in the 1970s only young white men had, for the most part, dared to come out, now poor gays and rich gays and old gays and ghetto gays were all visible—and they…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.