‘From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage’
By Michael J. Klarman
Oxford University Press
It’s said that nothing worthwhile comes easily and that’s certainly the case with the twisted, winding road that we’re still on with same-sex marriage laws in the U.S.
In the new book “From the Closet to the Altar” by Michael J. Klarman, you’ll see why and how the advances and lost ground have occurred.
In the years after World War II, gay rights faced “daunting hurdles.”
Organized activism was rare then because homosexuality was basically illegal in every state. Homosexuals and those merely suspected of homosexuality were subject to police raids, surveillance, loss of jobs and worse. They were believed to be “possibly as dangerous as communists.”
By the early-to-mid 1960s, however, social mores had relaxed enough for major news outlets to gingerly cover homosexuality in their pages. The change, Klarman writes, was in part because the Supreme Court deregulated pornography, which opened the door for gay literature. By this time, gay rights organizations were also plentiful and more vocal.
Same-sex marriage at that time, however, was largely a non-issue. Monogamy was practiced, but family life was often sneered at by activists.
Still, the possibility of marriage was pretty enticing.
In Minnesota in 1971, two men were married in a church, though the state refused to recognize their marriage as valid. In 1975, two men in Phoenix applied for a marriage license; a local court voided the marriage. That same year, couples in Colorado found a “more obliging” court clerk and several were married before the state stopped her from issuing more licenses.
By 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, the Moral Majority reigned and public sentiment was definitely against same-sex marriage. Still, anti-discrimination laws were widely passed across the nation, giving proponents hope, but then AIDS took the focus off the issue.
And then came Bill Clinton.
Author Michael J. Klarman begins his book by discussing how the Supreme Court has often followed social convention. That made me afraid I was getting myself into something dryly emotionless. I’m happy to say I was wrong.
“From the Closet to the Altar” is an interesting, lively look at the history of gay rights as well as that of same-sex marriage. Klarman sets the tone for every history-making milestone by explaining how it’s connected to the event that came before it, which makes it easy to understand how we got where we are now. In between, he makes some excellent, valid points as he looks at the future of the institution, including how and why it’s just a matter of time before there’s nation-wide acceptance.
Starry-eyed dreamers won’t find romance here, but historians and realists will love the facts that “From the Closet to the Altar” presents.