That was three years before the Stonewall riots in New York City, which began the modern gay-rights movement. Seven years before homosexuality itself was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of “mental disorders.”
There were two men in a room in the college town of Norman. One, an Air Force veteran named Jack Baker, asked the other, Michael McConnell, to form a committed relationship. Which, back then, meant a long lifetime as two men in a room.
McConnell said yes. But with one condition.
He wanted Baker to promise they would get married.
That promise helped start a long, shuddering change in American political thinking, which has so far brought gay-marriage activists more losses than wins. It helped birth a new idea: not that a gay couples might want to marry, but that this might be a possibility worth fighting for.
In other words, it was not just a wish. It was a goal. Four years later, in a case that made national news, Baker and McConnell applied for a marriage license in Minnesota.
“Most marriage laws across the country–state laws–did not specify the gender of the parties getting married, because it was unthinkable” that anybody but a man and a woman would apply, said George Chauncey, a history professor at Yale University. Because of people like Baker and McConnell, he said, “the idea had suddenly become think-able.”
Now, six states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to marry. Another two states, Washington and Maryland, have marriage laws that have not yet taken effect. And five more give gay couples the rights of marriage without the name, allowing “civil unions.”
In 38 states, however, gay marriage has been specifically prohibited through laws or constitutional amendments. On Tuesday, North Carolina voters were the latest to approve an amendment to their constitution that bans the practice.
On the national level, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act still defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The Obama administration, however, has stopped defending that law in court.
But the shift in the debate–the progress of the unthinkable idea–was demonstrated on Wednesday, in the way both the president and his presumed Republican opponent talked about same-sex marriage.
Obama presented his views not as cutting-edge, but as slightly overdue. He said he began to support same-sex marriage after hearing from military personnel and others who supported it.
“It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.
Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee, said he still believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But his reaction seemed reticent and limited: Romney conceded that this was a “very tender and sensitive topic.”
This article originally appeared on: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gay-marriage-the-unthinkable-became-reality--for-some/2012/05/10/gIQAAlq2FU_story.htmlOlder postNewer post