By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The ups and downs of gay rights in the U.S. are detailed in Michael J. Klarman’s From the Closet to the Altar
The rings are tucked safe in a box in your dresser drawer.
Your finery hangs in the closet, right next to that of your beloved. You bought new shoes for the occasion, flowers are ordered, a friend is providing the party spot, it’s BYO food, and you’ve done a thorough job with informal invitations.
Now you just need a place for the wedding but, depending on the month and the state in which you live, that might be easier dreamed than done. In the new book From the Closet to the Altar by Michael J. Klarman, you’ll see why.
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, says Klarman, 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 . . .
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 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. If that’s you, then read this book because, really—doesn’t “We’re married” have a nice ring to it?
From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage by Michael J. Klarman, Oxford University Press, 276 pages. List price $27.95.