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Bye, Bye DOMA & A Timeline of Gay Rights Triumphs in America

gay prideThis week is a big one for gay rights in America. The Supreme Court knocked down one of the most controversial sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), clearing the way for gays and lesbians to get fair treatment from the federal government. Also shot down by SCOTUS was Prop 8, which prevented marriage equality in California. 

Big news. But it's worth remembering that this is not the first major fight gays and lesbians have fought ... and won ... to gain what other Americans take for granted. The battles have been going on for decades, from the historic Stonewall riots in New York City to that first marriage win in Massachusetts.

If you don't think the DOMA decision was "that big a deal," take a look back at this timeline of major moments for gay rights in America.

This has been a long, hard-fought battle. And as some straight folks in more than 30 American states still think that love is a ball you can throw around in a twisted game of monkey in the middle, this is a battle that's still being fought.

Which moments do you remember most clearly celebrating from this timeline?


Image via Giullaume Paumier/Flickr

Image by Jeanne Sager

111 Biggest Wins for Gay Rights in America

Image via Wikimedia

2Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn in New York City is often considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. On June 28, 1969, the tavern was raided by police simply for serving a gay clientele. On that night, the patrons fought back Rosa Parks style, refusing to leave. Their resistance sparked several days of riots in the city's Greenwich Village section. Today Stonewall is still open as a tavern, and across the street is one of the nation's most famous statues of gay couples.

Image via Hey Paul Studios/Flickr

3Homosexuality No Longer Declared a Mental Illness

The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) in 1973, meaning gays and lesbians can no longer be labeled mentally disturbed simply for loving one another.

The change came after Evelyn Hooker, a straight woman who was introduced to homosexual culture by a student at UCLA, applied for a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to conduct research on "normal homosexuals."

Image via Wikimedia

4Harvey Milk Wins Public Office

Harvey Milk (seen at left, campaigning), shook up the entire nation when he became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He served only 11 months, from January 8, 1978 to November, when he was assassinated.

Although one of the more famous icons of the LGBT movement, Milk was not the first openly gay person to gain public office in America. That distinction belongs to Kathy Kozachenko, who won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council in 1974.

Image via Wikimedia

5First Gay Rights March on Washington, D.C.

The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights came on October 14, 1979.

Image via Wikimedia


6Congressman Gerry Studds Comes Out

Gerry E. Studds was a closeted homosexual when he was elected as a Congressman from the State of Massachusetts, but after he came out on the floor of the House in 1983, his constituents backed him. The first openly gay Congressman remained in office until 1973.

Image via socialspice.de/Flickr

7First Gay Kiss on TV

Part of being recognized as a piece of the "fabric of society" is your appearance on TV, but gays and lesbians were largely hidden away until 1991, when two female attornies locked lips on L.A. Law, the controversial "first gay kiss" on television.

Image by qwrrty/Flickr


8Massachusetts Approves Gay Marriage

On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the union were same-sex marriages were permitted, paving the way for the more than 20 that now allow for some sort of marriage equality. Seen here is the Massachusetts' state house in Boston, where marriage equality took its first steps in America.

Image via Wikimedia

9Gays Gain Right to Adopt in Florida

Less than 20 states currently allow gays to adopt children in America. One of those is Florida, where a decades-old ban was finally shot down in 2010, one of the loudest messages sent to the world that gays can be just as good at parenting as their straight counterparts.

Image via Wikimedia


10Frank Kameny Gets His Apology

In 1961, the Supreme Court refused to hear gay astronomer Frank Kameny's complaint that he'd been fired by the government in 1957 for his sexual preference. It was a loss, but one that would spark a revolution as gays and lesbians came out to support him and to fight for their own rights.

It would take until 2009 for the government to apologize to him, but they did it! And that apology, which came from Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, was historic.

Also historic? Picket signs from the 1965 protests on Kameny's behalf are now on display at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.

Image via Leader Nancy Pelosi/Flickr

11Don't Ask Don't Tell Repealed

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, an act passed in 1993 that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military only so long as their sexuality was kept private, was repealed in 2011, finally allowing the LGBT community the same rights to openly profess their love for their partners that their straight comrades enjoyed.

Image via BossTweed/Flickr

12DOMA Section 3 Ruled Unconstitutional & Prop 8 Shot Down

The United States Supreme Court decided on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, that section three of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. That section allowed the federal government to discriminate against gays and lesbians based solely on their sexuality.

Also shot down was Prop 8, which made same sex marriage illegal in California.

Seen at left, people celebrate the announcement at, appropriately enough, the Stonewall Inn!

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