Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality.

Author:Hall, David S.
Position:Book review

Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality George Chauncey Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, New York, 2004 189 Pages, $ 22.00

This book, by a University of Chicago Professor of American History, is a must read for anyone even a little bit interested in the current public furor over gay/lesbian equality and marriage. George Chauncey is also the author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, which has won a number of literary prizes. He is also one of the authors of the Historians' Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark decision in 2003 overturning sodomy laws and restoring privacy in adult sexual behavior. This brief book is an outgrowth of that work and his research for the Gay New York book.

Are you aware that during the McCarthy era the government dismissed more homosexuals than communists from government jobs? Are you aware that 50 years ago there was a legal ban on plays with lesbian or gay characters? No Will and Grace! Did you know that Hollywood films were prohibited from even inferring the existance of homosexuality? Did you know that if you were suspected of being homosexual you could, in some states, be confined to a mental institution for an indefinite period?

And did you know that most of this history of the mid-1900s has been erased from the historical record, as part of the systematic work of anti-gay politics? Even today, young historians, and other academics, are often warned that research into gay issues will deny them tenure and destroy their careers. We cannot even show a cartoon that speaks briefly about lesbian mothers without the President's cabinet officers threatening loss of funding to PBS. How did the US get this way? Was it always like this before gay pride came marching out of the closet?

The answer is no, it was not always like the 1950s or like today. In fact, from the earliest days of this country to the late nineteenth century it was conduct that was criminalized, behavior that almost any person could do, at least any male person. These laws were rarely enforced. However, early in the 20th century, states began to discriminate against certain people based on their sexual identy as homosexuals. Why did this occur, and why are we now seeing a remarkable...

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