Last week, a much abused and beleaguered equal rights ordinance failed to win public support in Houston. There’s plenty of background to HERO here, explaining how it seeks to protect LGBT individuals in a state which offers them no legal rights of employment, medical treatment, or housing. Without such protection, your landlord can evict you for being gay; your boss can fire you; you can’t use the appropriate restrooms if the wrong box is ticked on your birth certificate. Continue reading →
The first legal challenges to the ban on same-sex couples marrying in the US came in the early 1970s, without success: Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that a ban on SSM wasn’t unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding SSM in 1972, “for want of a substantial federal question.” That denial blocked lower federal courts from addressing the matter of same-sex marriage for decades.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the notion of same-sex marriage was taken seriously by the courts, when a ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court in Baehr v. Lewin suggested for the first time that refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry might be unconstitutional. The reaction to Hawaii’s ruling, rather than build momentum to allow SSM, instead resulted in a backlash in congress, who pushed through the Defence of Marriage Act, specifically prohibiting the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages. Continue reading →
Civil partnerships have been legal in England and Wales since 2005. CPs granted many of the same rights as marriages, without permitting the use of the word itself. The 2004 Civil Partnership Act also prohibited religious iconography or terminology being used in CP ceremonies. They were strictly secular, robbing LGBT couples of reciting the same time-honoured vows as straight folk. Nonetheless, within the first decade, over 60,000 civil partnerships had been formed.
One couple, Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, who were legally married in British Columbia, Canada, refused to accept the government’s recognition of their marriage as a civil partnership. Continue reading →
One of the core aims of the queer emancipation movement, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality, was same-sex partner recognition. Marriage, the state previously reserved for long-term heterosexual domestic partners, has obvious religious connotations, but it also comes with a number of additional rights granted by the state, including but not limited to tax-free inheritance, next-of-kinship (which enables everything from hospital visitation to deciding if it’s time to pull the plug), joint tax filing, joint insurance, joint ownership of property, and so on.
When the AIDS crisis struck in the 1980s, the lack of legal protections for same-sex partners was starkly illustrated in the sheer volume of stories of families who had previously disowned their sons emerging from the woodwork after their deaths and claiming everything they’d built with their partners. It Could Happen to You, Shane Bitney Crone’s heartbreaking short film on the subject, was remarkable only because it was one of many such stories to gain international attention. Continue reading →
Axel and Eigil Axgil are commonly considered the first couple who legally entered a same-sex partnership, in Denmark in 1989. The history of legal same-sex unions, however, dates back far beyond the modern era of civil partnerships and gay marriage.
One of Roman emperor Elagabalous’s least eccentric traits was styling himself the wife of one of his slaves and requiring his senators to refer to to said slave as the true emperor. (He once invited a number of distinguised guests to dinner and killed them by dropping enough rose petals on their heads to smother them where they sat.) When he was bored of his first “husband,” Elagabalous married an athlete named Zoticus in an extravagant public ceremony. Continue reading →
The early queer rights movement was flawed for many reasons. Not only did it marginalise the most visible members of the community — who had historically born the biggest brunt of discrimination and persecution — they also opted for a soft approach to addressing civil injustices which rankles with hindsight. Most of the early arguments in favour of decriminalising homosexuality posited that queerfolk led sad, miserable lives, and deserved society’s pity, not its contempt. The advocated tolerance, not acceptance. Queerfolk should be allowed to move freely in society, but nobody envisioned them ever being fully part of it. The idea of queerfolk being fully integrated into society was beyond the pale, and too much for the early activists to hope for. Continue reading →
For hundreds of years when being queer was criminal in western society, the public face of queerfolk was the most visible members of the community, those who were unable to hide by passing as heterosexual and consequently, those most often brought before the law. Trans* individuals, cross-dressers, and those who eschewed the gender binary were obvious, easy targets. When the political climate became unbearably repressive, and the civil rights movement to emancipate other minorities took off, one of the first acts of the community was to change the image of queerness in the public consciousness. Continue reading →
The original Pride flag was flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on 25th June, 1978. It had been designed by Gilbert Baker, an artist and designer who made silk banners for gay rights and anti-war protest marches. The flag was inspired in part by Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” (Garland had died a few days before the Stonewall uprising), and originally contained eight colours, each with a different meaning, the idea for which came from the Flag of Races used during the 1960s civil rights marches, which consisted of five horizontal stripes in red, black, brown, yellow, and white.
Thirty volunteers hand stitched and dyed the first two flags for the Freedom Day parade. Continue reading →
Through the 1960s as homophile organisations started to form in defence of queerfolk, the community which was only just forming began to fracture. Societies like the Mattachine wanted to present an assimilationist approach to queer emancipation, representing the white, middle class, straight-passing men who politicians and lawmakers would relate to and find most sympathetic. It wasn’t these men, however, that were being targeted by the police and rounded up by the dozen, but the butch women, effeminate queens, cross-dressers, and trans*folk who were the most visible and obvious targets for prosecution, and the easiest to turn into folk devils and scapegoats. It’s no surprise it was those members who first fought back and put queer emancipation on the political agenda. Continue reading →