High School Harassment
BY Advocate Contributors
June 23 2010 9:50 AM ET
Many LGBT rights lawsuits have ended successfully not only because of the determination of the LGBT litigants involved but also because of the skill, dedication, and perseverance of their gay rights attorneys. Over the last twenty years, no group of lawyers has helped to change this country more than gay rights attorneys — and, behind each case we find powerful human stories. In Braschi v. Stahl Associates, a gay man in New York in the 1980s fights his landlord’s efforts to evict him after his partner of ten years dies of AIDS and wins a court ruling that for the first time recognizes that two men in an intimate relationship can constitute a family under the law. In the 1990s, a lesbian couple in Hawaii showed up unexpectedly at a clerk’s office seeking a marriage license. Their case, Baehr v. Lewin, became the first time an American court questioned the constitutionality of denying same-sex couples the opportunity to marry. Not only did that lawsuit ignite the marriage equality movement, it has also done more to increase the visibility of LGBT people over the last two decades than any other strategy pursued by the movement.
Almost a decade later, two gay men in Houston legally challenged their arrest for engaging in consensual sex in the privacy of the home leading the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the constitutional rights of all Americans to choose their sexual partners. For decades prior to Lawrence v. Texas, those who supported discrimination against LGBT people had argued that the differential treatment was justified because society was entitled to discourage same-sex sexuality and relationships through the criminal law. And, because of Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to deny LGBT people the opportunity to seek anti-discrimination protection under the law.
The five judicial victories mentioned here have changed the country’s treatment and understanding of LGBT people in ways that were unimaginable only a generation ago. Of course the movement won’t be able to achieve all of its goals through the courts. It bears remembering, for example, that it was a legislative act — the enactment by Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — that gave the mortal blow, a full decade after the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, to segregationist policies in America. Judicial civil rights victories, then, are frequently the beginning of the process rather than the end. But the move toward greater equality has to begin somewhere, and under our system of government, that somewhere has frequently been the courts.
Adapted excerpt from From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits That Have Changed Our Nation. Copyright © 2010 by Carlos A. Ball. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.