This week, the federal appeals court in Massachusetts unanimously ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Gill v. OPM is a remarkable ruling, but perhaps as important as the decision is its timing: the court struck down a law of Congress a mere 16 years after it was passed.
Certainly no one ever thought of challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996! What happened?
What the Los Angeles Times recently called the “Fastest of All Civil Rights Movements” happened. And the paper wrote that headline before the First Circuit ruled. Maybe it was something about the President of the United States endorsing same-sex marriage inspired the L.A. Times to note the speed of the social change.
As progressive movements of every stripe falter and grind to a halt—who’s occupying Occupy Wall Street these days?—it pays to pay attention to how the gay movement broke the spell of right-wing triumph and progressive tragedy.
First, the movement acted locally. Local action is a gay tradition. In 1953, the Mattachine Society, the first modern gay organization in the country had the effrontery to send a questionnaire to all the candidates for the Los Angeles City Council, demanding to know their position on issues like police harassment. After Stonewall, the Gay Activists Alliance opened the modern gay movement by attacking the Mayor of New York, John Lindsay, whose police had triggered the Stonewall uprising in the first place. They asked their home town, New York, to pass a law barring discrimination against them. Gay activism has always worked from the cities and hospitable states outward. National initiatives, by contrast, were seen as losing propositions and, when undertaken, they usually did lose.
So the gay marriage movement undertook a self-conscious strategy to start to legalize marriage more locally, in states like Massachusetts, where they had already gained traction.
This article originally appeared on: http://news.yahoo.com/gay-movement-did-doma-020429846.html