Top 5 Greatest Moments in Gay Rights History

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A recent groundswell in attitudes of acceptance—especially among young people—toward gay people as full and equal Americans is the result of a long and often difficult struggle known as the gay rights movement. For most of American history, homosexuality was forbidden by both custom and law, resulting in gays being forced to live in secret or face exclusion from many facets of American life. The movement has made monumental strides in reducing discrimination, ridicule, harassment and violence that gays formerly expected to endure.

5 Lawrence v. Texas

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In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The case was the result of two gay men who were arrested in their home for having private, consensual sex after police responded to a false report of a burglary. The ruling drew widespread criticism from conservative and religious groups and signaled the beginning of a dramatic and fast-moving shift in American attitudes toward gay people. Sodomy laws were the last remnant of the criminalization of gay life in America.

4 The 1980 Democratic National Platform

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In August 1980 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the phrase “sexual orientation” entered the American lexicon when the Democratic Party added to its platform a plank that stated, “All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation.” Although the Democrats were overwhelmingly defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan—who was backed by notorious gay rights opponent Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority—a major political party had endorsed gay rights.

3 The Year 1973

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In 1973, the gay rights movement took two major leaps forward. First, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders, which, since the association’s founding in 1952, was the scientific basis for legal discrimination against gays. For the first time, there was nothing wrong with homosexuals. Also that year, a young organizer named Harvey Milk ran for city supervisor in San Francisco. Although he came in 10th out of 32 candidates, he would go on to become the voice of the gay rights movement—and the movement’s greatest martyr when he was murdered five years later.

2 Defeat of DOMA and Proposition 8

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On June 26, 2013, a divided Supreme Court handed the gay rights movement the two most significant legal victories in history—on the same day. The court ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it deprived citizens of “equal liberty” before the law and struck down Proposition 8, which had banned gay marriage in California. The dual victories shattered barriers for marriage equality at both the state and federal level and made it all but inevitable that eventually marriage will be legalized for gay people throughout the United States.

1 The Stonewall Rebellion

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Also called the Stonewall Riots, the three days of unrest at and around New York City’s Stonewall Inn in 1969 signaled the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. At the time of the uprising, gay life was all but outlawed in most of the country, and the Stonewall was among the very few places where openly gay New Yorkers could gather. On June 28, patrons took a stand against a police raid that had followed years of frequent official harassment and abuse. The anniversary a year later witnessed the first Gay Pride Parade and within two years, every major city in the country had a gay rights organization.

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