Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16 - 22, 2004


At Gay Pride, gains and goals

In this Gay Pride Month there is much to celebrate.

For starters, the very presence of former Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine — the police commander who led the infamous raid on the Stonewall Inn in 1969 that sparked the gay-rights movement — at a panel on the event this month shows how greatly times have changed.

Thirty-five years ago, gay bars were regularly targeted by police, their patrons treated roughly and humiliated during arrests. Although these bars were often run by organized crime, this was probably at least partly due to the marginalization and de facto criminalization of gay culture by authorities.

The panel was organized by David Carter, author of a new definitive account of the Stonewall Rebellion. That Pine could come forward as he did and admit that police brutalized gays and exploited them to pad arrest numbers was, in the words of Carter, “courageous.” And it shows how society has changed to where gays no longer need live in fear of such institutionalized harassment.

Gains by gays and lesbians in terms of social acceptance have come gradually in the past decades. However, the movement for legal rights has recently been snowballing fast and furiously.

A year and a half ago, New York State passed SONDA, granting statewide civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Last June, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy laws, judging them un-Constitutional, a ruling that applied to all the other states. That decision seemed to open wide the floodgates to the possibility of gay marriage.

Indeed, in November, a Massachusetts court ruled the state must allow gays and lesbians to wed, and in May the ruling took effect. Since then, thousands of homosexuals have tied the knot there. Canada’s three largest provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, also legalized gay marriage.

In February and March, gays started getting married on their own in San Francisco, then in Upstate New York, as the movement caught fire. However, in each case, the states challenged the marriages’ legality, with the threat of legal action against the mayors who allowed them if they didn’t stop them from happening.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg has refused to state his personal view on gay marriage. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, while saying he supports gay marriage, has stated he feels New York State law does not permit it — though he says out-of-state gay and lesbian marriages should be recognized here. In this state, the courts will likely decide the issue.

In a conservative backlash, the marriage movement was countered by threat of a Constitutional ban by President Bush. A vote in the Senate is expected next month.

Also in New York City, the City Council passed the landmark Equal Benefits Bill, under which private companies contracting with the city must provide equal benefits to gay employees’ partners. The mayor vetoed the bill; it remains to be seen whether the Council will override the veto.

That Pine can address a group of gays and then be mobbed for autographs shows how remarkably things have changed. And yet, the struggle continues — for gay marriage. But it seems the momentum is there. Perhaps, not too far in the future, there will be a panel looking back at a time when gay marriage wasn’t allowed.

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