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Gay rights timeline: Key dates in the fight for equality

One month after the demonstrations at the Stonewall Inn, activist Marty Robinson speaks to a crowd before the first mass march in support of gay rights in New York on July 27, 1969.Fred W. McDarrah / Getty Images

From its beginning with riots against police oppression of gays in New York City more than 40 years ago, the fight for gay rights continues today on new fronts: over marriage, therapies to “cure” homosexuals and one of the country's most popular institutions, the Boy Scouts of America.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two landmark, same-sex-marriage cases, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and paving the way for same-sex marriage in California with their decision on Proposition 8.

“The swift road to marriage equality has produced millions of conversations around the dinner table and water cooler on the freedom of every American to marry the person they love. It is these conversations that have changed minds. But while we've reached the tipping point on marriage, there's still a ways to go for full LGBT equality, like ending bullying in schools and workplace discrimination,” Kevin Nix, a spokesman for the LGBT advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement earlier this year.

Here is a look at some of the key moments in American LGBT history:

June 28, 1969: Start of the gay rights movement

The Stonewall Riots begin after police raid a popular unlicensed gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in New York City's Greenwich Village. The riots, which lasted for days, were triggered by police harassment of gays, according to media reports. This is considered by many to herald the start of the gay rights movement in the U.S.

1970 gay pride parade in Boston, Mass.

June 27-28, 1970: First gay pride parades

On the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the nation's first gay pride parades are held in four cities – New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Fred Sergeant, who attended the NYC parade, reflected in the Village Voice: “Back then, it took a new sense of audacity and courage to take that giant step into the streets of Midtown Manhattan. ... I stayed at the head of the march the entire way, and at one point, I climbed onto the base of a light pole and looked back. I was astonished; we stretched out as far as I could see, thousands of us.” Pride events now are held worldwide every year.

1973: Homosexuality no longer classified as a mental disorder

The American Psychological Association’s Board of Trustees votes to remove homosexuality from its diagnostic manual of mental disorders, influenced by psychologist Dr. Robert Spitzer, who provided data showing there was no clear link between homosexuality and mental illness. A few years later, gay members of the APA formed the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists.

Nov. 27, 1978: Assassination of Harvey Milk

Milk became the first openly gay man elected to office in a major U.S. city when he won a seat on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in early 1978. An outspoken advocate for gay rights, he urged gays to come out and fight for their rights. Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White. But Milk's legacy has lived on and California has designated May 22 as a day of “special significance” in his honor.

1981: The AIDS crisis

Gay advocacy groups form to deal with the crisis gripping the community amid a slow government response to AIDS and the linking of the disease with gay men. Over the years, the AIDS Quilt will form, and some well-known figures will succumb to AIDS, including actor Rock Hudson, or be diagnosed with it, like basketball star Magic Johnson.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and his mother Elsie Frank, 76, of Boston, wave as they march in a parade in Fall River, Aug. 28, 1989. Frank was well-received by a crowd of approximately 100,000 three days after admitting to a relationship with a male prostitute.Steven Senne / ASSOCIATED PRESS

May 30, 1987: Congressman comes out

Rep.  Barney Frank becomes the first openly gay member of Congress. Twenty-five years later, in July 2012, he married his longtime partner, Jim Ready. Frank advocated for the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act, which passed in 2008, and became one of the highlights of his career. Frank also re-introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill did not pass. This year an ENDA bill was introduced yet again by different lawmakers, in both the House and Senate.  Frank retired in January 2013 after serving for 16 terms as a Democratic representative from Massachusetts.

President Bill Clinton answers questions during a news conference in Taylor, Mich., in 1996.Wilfredo Lee / AP

1993: 'Don't ask, don't tell'

President Bill Clinton enacts "don't ask, don't tell," a policy preventing gays from openly serving in the military. Under it, an estimated 13,000 people were expelled from the U.S. Armed Forces. President Barack Obama repealed the policy in 2011. 

1996: Congress bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage (DOMA)

Congress passes the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 3 of the statute bars recognition of same-sex marriage, affecting more than 1,100 provisions of federal laws. It denies gay couples the right to file joint taxes and the protections of the Family Medical and Leave Act, and it blocks surviving spouses from accessing veterans’ benefits, among other things. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to DOMA on March 27, 2013. Bill Clinton, who signed the legislation, recently came out against the law and asked the Supreme Court to repeal it. On June 26, SCOTUS declared the law unconstitutional.

Anne Heche plays with Ellen DeGeneres' hair at the 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday Sept. 14, 1997 in Pasadena, Calif. DeGeneres won an award for outstanding writing for a comedy series forSusan Sterner / AP file

April 30, 1997: 'Yep, I'm gay' -- DeGeneres comes out 

Ellen DeGeneres comes out on her television show, "Ellen," in an episode that drew in 42 million viewers. Her ratings plunged, which she said was due to a lack of promotion, and the show was pulled the next season, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But she bounced back and she now hosts a popular afternoon talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Her “coming out” heralded an era of other gay celebrities following suit, and LGBT leading ladies and men have in the last year said they felt it was unnecessary to reveal their sexual preference.

Candlelight vigil for slain gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Oct. 12, 1998: Matthew Shepard's beating death

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson rob and beat Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, and tie him to a split-rail fence outside of Laramie, Wyo. He dies on Oct. 12, less than a week after the attack. The murder, for which the pair are each serving two consecutive life sentences, inspired "The Laramie Project," a play and later film about Laramie in the year after the murder, and federal hate crimes legislation approved in 2009 that bears Shepard's name.

2000: Boy Scouts can ban gays

The Supreme Court rules that the Boy Scouts of America can bar gay Scouts and leaders from membership, saying that as a private youth organization it has the right to do so. Under increasing pressure in recent years to change the policy, the BSA held a vote on the controversial membership guidelines in May 2013 and lifted its ban on gay scouts. 

Lawyers Susan Murray, left, and Beth Robinson brought a lawsuit before the Vermont Supreme Court that led to the court's decision on same-sex marriage in 2000.Toby Talbot / AP

2000: First state to allow same-sex civil unions

Vermont becomes the first state to allow same-sex couples to join their lives via civil unions. The state approved same-sex marriage in 2009.

2003: Anti-sodomy law struck down

The Supreme Court strikes down a Texas anti-sodomy law, reversing an earlier decision made in another case 17 years earlier that Justice Anthony Kennedy said “demeans the lives of homosexual persons.” Gays are ''entitled to respect for their private lives," Kennedy said for the court, according to The New York Times. ''The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.'' 

CAMBRIDGE, MA - MAY 17: Jes Shuford (L) and Shannon Andrews wait their turn to apply for a marriage licence in the early hours of May 17, 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge City Hall opened its doors before midnight to become the first city in Massachusetts to issue licenses for same sex marriages, which were made possible by a landmark state Supreme Judicial Court ruling . (Photo by Michael Springer/Getty Images)/

May 17, 2004: Massachusetts legalizes gay marriage

Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage after the state Supreme Court ruled the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Since then 13 more states, including California, Maine, and New York, have legalized gay marriage.

2004: State same-sex marriage bans

A dozen states pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. The amendments become a popular method to attempt to block legislative acts and judicial decisions on the issue.

Jeff Barr, left, places a wedding ring on Wes Wilkinson at the Yolo County clerk's office in Woodland, Calif. on June 16, 2008. They were among the first gay couples to wed in Yolo County after the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages.Rich Pedroncelli / AP

2008: California's Prop. 8 nixes gay marriage

California’s Supreme Court rules that gays and lesbians should be allowed to wed. For a short time that year, some 18,000 same-sex couples tie the knot in the Golden State. But in November, voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (Proposition 8) after a hard-fought, multimillion-dollar campaign – one of the most expensive on this issue. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to Prop. 8 on March 26, 2013 and in June SCOTUS paved the way for same-sex marriages in California.

October 28, 2009:  Hate Crimes Prevention Act

President Barack Obama signs into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for two victims of hate crimes. Shepard was 21 years old when he was tortured and killed in Laramie, Wyo., because he was gay. Byrd, a 49-year-old black man, was chained to the back of a truck and dragged to death in Jasper, Texas. The hate crimes prevention law requires the FBI to track hate crimes based on gender and gender identity, and gives the Department of Justice the power to prosecute crimes that were motivated by the victim’s race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

In an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC'sPete Souza / White House via EPA

May 9, 2012: First sitting president to support same-sex marriage

Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to back marriage for gay and lesbian couples. It marked a reversal from his 2008 campaign, when he said he opposed same-sex marriage but favored civil unions as an alternative. His announcement came one day after voters in North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as well as civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Nov. 4, 2012: In a first, gay marriage wins at the ballot box

Voters in Maine approve same-sex marriage in the first vote brought by supporters, while voters in Maryland and Washington uphold state legislation allowing gays and lesbians to wed. And in Minnesota, voters reject – for just the second time nationwide – a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, a Cub Scout den leader who was kicked out in 2012 for being openly gay, embraces her son Cruz Burns, 8, before a news conference at the Great Wolf Lodge May 23, 2013 in Grapevine, Texas.Stewart F. House / Getty Images file

May 23, 2013: Boy Scouts lift ban on gay youth

Members of the Boy Scouts of America's council vote to remove the ban against gay scouts, causing conflict with some faith-based supporters. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the United Methodist Church were supportive of the decision. The Boy Scouts' ban on gay adult leaders remains in place.

June 20, 2013: 'Ex-gay' group shuts down

Exodus International, a group that claimed it could cure same-sex attraction via prayer and therapy, announces it will close its doors after more than three decades. The organization's leader, who admitted to his own "ongoing same-sex attractions," apologized to gays, saying, “I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change.” 

June 26, 2013:  U.S. Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, allows same-sex marriage to resume in California

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  DOMA defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Gay couples legally married in their states will now be granted federal benefits such as family leave and Social Security survivor benefits.  On the same day, SCOTUS rules on Proposition 8, a hotly contested ban on gay marriage in California. The justices found supporters of the ban did not have the legal standing to appeal a lower court’s decision against it. Two days later, a federal appeals court lifted its stay on same-sex marriages in the state.

NBC's Christina Caron and Adrianne Haney contributed to this report.