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social sciences

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Gay Rights Movement, U. S.  
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Also, just as anti-gay initiatives of the late 1970s spurred the 1979 march, and AIDS inaction and the Bowers decision led to the 1987 march, the military debate and efforts of states to pass discriminatory laws (or rescind pro-gay ones) helped create the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, held April 25.

The addition of "Bi" in the title of the march was an important victory for bisexuals, who had felt as invisible in the 1980s (and organized on their own) as lesbians had felt in the 1970s. Trans people, however, were excluded from the title (though not from march literature), despite decades of significant activity for themselves and for queer rights generally.

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Also notable about the 1993 march are the words "Rights" and "Liberation" in the title (symbolizing either unity or a confusion of goals), and the numbers claimed: organizers tallied more than one million participants, which would make the march the largest rights demonstration in the nation's history though it did not receive a commensurate amount of coverage in the mainstream media.

The paradoxes of queer rights were exhibited in the later 1990s, and make it difficult to generalize about progress: in 1996 the Senate nearly passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (it went down in a 49-50 vote) while Congress easily passed the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1997 both Ellen DeGeneres and her television sitcom character Ellen Morgan came out nationally, but her series lasted only one further season.

In 1998 Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) became the first open lesbian elected to Congress, and there were more than 120 openly gay men and lesbians serving in government, including Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and Representative Gerry Studds (D-MA), but most were on the local level and there was not (and is not yet, in 2008) an openly queer Senator.

Congress almost passed hate crimes legislation that included sexual orientation, and awareness of the problem was heightened when Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, though even then Congress failed to act. Moreover, attacks on people nonwhite, non-middle-class, and/or transgendered continued to seem more tolerable, when noted at all.

The New Millennium

As the new millennium opened, older activists in general were astonished at the progress toward queer rights that had been accomplished in just a few decades. If nothing else, the visibility at the core of the movement was greater than they might have predicted, and it seemed that queer rights, if not guaranteed, would no longer be avoidable as an issue.

Although conservative Christians continued to dominate the government, particularly with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, and continued to resist civil rights for homosexuals, many mainstream Christian denominations (or significant voices within them) became more openly supportive of glbtq rights.

Anti-discrimination legislation continued to be adopted into the 2000s; by 2008 twenty states had laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment (and some on the basis of gender identity also). In addition, some states had granted rights to gay and lesbian couples: civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey; domestic partnerships in California and Oregon; and marriage in Massachusetts (2005) and California (2008), even as many other states passed statutes and constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman and, in some cases, prohibiting recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Although a majority of U.S. states offered little or no protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act continued to be stymied largely by Republicans in Congress, a large majority of Fortune 500 companies did adopt such protection, and polls indicated that a majority of Americans were opposed to discrimination against homosexuals in employment and accommodations.

Amid a controversial Millennium March on Washington for Equality in 2000, advocates of both rights and liberation continued to debate goals and strategies. Symbolic of continuing differences is the topic of same-sex marriage. Raised at the very beginning of organized lesbian and gay rights in the 1950s, same-sex marriage has resurfaced periodically and has divided Americans not just along lines of pro- and anti-gay, but according to movement objectives as well.

For many (especially, but by no means only, those in committed couples), marriage is the ultimate acknowledgement of equal rights, not to mention a practical goal with significant economic consequences. To other activists, though, it represents the height of accommodation to a mainstream culture--what is more patriarchal, middle-class, and ultimately supportive of the status quo than marriage? Still, most glbtq people--even those who have no interest in marriage for themselves--believe it should be an option for all.

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