Friday, April 29, 2011

How the Law Accepted Gays

by Dale Carpenter

New York Times

April 28, 2011

The prestigious law firm King & Spalding has not fully explained its decision this week to stop assisting Congress in defending the law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But its reversal suggests the extent to which gay men and lesbians have persuaded much of the legal profession to accept the basic proposition that sexual orientation is irrelevant to a person’s worth and that the law should reflect this judgment. The decision cannot be dismissed simply as a matter of political correctness or bullying by gays.

Gay-rights supporters have transformed the law and the legal profession, opening the doors of law firms, law schools and courts to people who were once casually and cruelly shut out because of their sexual orientation.

But it was a process that took a half-century to unfold. In 1961, a Harvard-trained astronomer, Frank Kameny, stood alone against the federal government. Fired from his federal job simply for being gay, he wanted to petition the Supreme Court. But at a time when all 50 states still criminalized sodomy, even the American Civil Liberties Union declared it had no interest in challenging laws “aimed at the suppression or elimination of homosexuals.” Mr. Kameny wrote his own appellate brief; without comment, the court turned him away.