It was December 2002. Sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. No state or jurisdiction in the country had yet legalized same-sex marriage (“marriage equality” was not a term in popular use). Congress had yet to pass a single piece of pro-gay legislation. The Democratic Party took gay money and votes but mostly paid lip service to our concerns. Barack Obama was a member of the Illinois state Senate. President George W. Bush was in his first term and the country was still reeling from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush would later make opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, pushing for ballot measures on marriage in key battleground states and even using his State of the Union address to call for a federal constitutional amendment banning recognition of our relationships.
What a difference a decade makes.
Ten years after joining the Blade, I have been privileged to occupy a front-row seat to some of the most significant and historic events the movement has seen. Make no mistake that the election of Barack Obama marked the turning point in this quest for equality. Without his (fierce) advocacy, many of the landmark achievements of the past four years would not have been possible. But the tide began to turn before Obama’s arrival on the national political scene. And it began in 2003 with the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws in that state and 13 others, reversing a devastating 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld a similar law in Georgia.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, still considered the court’s swing vote, wrote the unforgettable majority opinion: “The petitioners [Lawrence and Garner] are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”
Finally, after decades of struggle, the mere fact of being gay could no longer be considered criminal.
Kennedy noted that the Lawrence case “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” That, however, has finally changed as the high court this year agreed to hear two such cases on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. In 10 short years, we’ve gone from fighting over private sex acts to impending Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality.
That ruling helped to trigger a wave of fast-moving change. Just a year later, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. And the good news keeps coming. From Obama’s victory in 2008 to Congress passing its first LGBT rights bill — an expansion of the federal hate crimes law — to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
There have been so many highlights during my 10 years at the Blade, but one moment that has always stayed with me occurred in June 2009 at President Obama’s first Pride Month reception in the White House. Obama, flanked by first lady Michelle Obama, said, “Welcome to your house.” It was such a simple gesture, yet they were words that none of us had ever heard before. And the president and first lady stayed to mingle, chat and pose for photos as a DJ spun Madonna tunes in the East Wing. A joyous and surreal moment after so many bleak years under Bush.
It hasn’t been all cocktails and dance divas, though.
I’ve edited and written countless stories over the past decade and two have haunted me. We profiled a Baltimore gay couple in their 30s, both public school teachers. One was diagnosed with cancer and died within months. He’d been estranged from his family over his sexual orientation and had a will and other legal documents in place at his death. The family sued to have their son’s body exhumed and moved to the family plot in Tennessee — and they won. The surviving partner finally prevailed on appeal but lost everything in the process of an expensive legal battle to simply keep his partner in the ground.
In another case, the Blade exposed the fact that four teens shot on a Newark, N.J., playground were gay. Three of them died. The mainstream media refused to report the basic fact that this was a hate crime motivated by the victims’ sexual orientation.
It’s been a whirlwind and unforgettable decade, from interviewing newsmakers and celebrities to chronicling historic civil rights advances to mourning crime victims to fighting with Bill O’Reilly over the evils of Scientology and outing closet cases like Shepard Smith.
As we celebrate our 2012 Election Day victories, we look forward to a time when true equality comes to all 50 states and to countries around the world. We’re not there yet and, so, keep reading.