The modern gay rights movement in the United States began as a long, slow march, then picked up astonishing speed.
Its apex, the Supreme Court ruling on Friday that the Constitution guarantees gay couples the right to marry across the country, came on the anniversaries of two pivotal decisions.
Both were also written by Justice Anthony Kennedy: Lawrence v. Texas, in 2003, which struck down criminal sodomy laws, and United States v. Windsor, two years ago, which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
A third anniversary will be observed this weekend: On June 28, 1969, a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a New York gay bar, touched off days of riots that galvanized gays and lesbians.
Almost exactly 46 years later, outside the Supreme Court, an Ohio man named James Obergefell held up a photo of his late husband, John, and praised the justices for declaring that "our love is equal."
Then he took a congratulatory phone call from the president.
"It took a new sense of audacity and courage to take that giant step into the streets of Midtown Manhattan," he said. "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.
President Bill Clinton announces the policy that would become known as "don’t ask, don’t tell."
"It is the best way to proceed because it provides a sensible balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of our military to remain the world’s No. 1 fighting force," he says at the National Defense University.
The Supreme Court, in Romer v. Evans, strikes down a Colorado law that blocked any legislative or executive action to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.
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"If the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest," Kennedy writes.
Just before 1 a.m. and before no cameras, Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as between one man and one woman. It also allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Supreme Court, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, rules that the Boy Scouts, under the First Amendment guarantee of expressive association, have the right to ban gay members. Kennedy joins the majority.
The Supreme Court, in a decision called Lawrence v. Texas, strikes down criminal sodomy laws, overturning the Bowers decision from 17 years earlier. Kennedy writes for the majority that gays are “entitled to respect for their private lives.”
The Vermont Legislature passes same-sex marriage, the first state to do it by legislative action and not a court ruling. By the end of 2009, five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
"As of Sept. 20th," he says, "service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian."
Obama becomes the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage.
"I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue," he tells Robin Roberts of ABC News, then says: "At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that — for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
Exodus International, which had claimed that it could cure same-sex attraction with prayer and therapy, announces that it will close its doors after more than three decades. Its leader apologizes: “I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change.”
The Supreme Court, in two landmark decisions, strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and allows gay marriage to resume in California by declining to decide a case about Proposition 8.
Kennedy, writing for the majority, says that DOMA’s main effect "is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal."
Edith Windsor, the 84-year-old woman who brought the case against the federal law, says: "Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA, and those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married."
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a departure from other federal appeals courts, upholds bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The split in the appeals courts lays the groundwork for the Supreme Court to settle the matter for the whole country.
The Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, rules that gay couples across the country have a constitutional right to marry.
"It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage," Kennedy writes. "Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.
"Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."