How Gay Rights Organizations Work

Same-sex Marriage and Beyond

In 2001, same-sex marriage became legal in the Netherlands. Over the next few years, other nations and several individual U.S. states legalized same-sex marriage as well, including Belgium, Newfoundland and Labrador, Spain, Canada, and the U.S. state of Massachusetts. By 2016, same-sex marriage had become legal in almost 30 countries, including the United States, in which same-sex marriage became legal nationwide following the Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges.

The passage of same-sex marriage legislation has followed decades of activism and legal work. We'll walk through some of the U.S. milestones as an example. In the United States, the process began in 1978, when Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) began filing lawsuits to end discrimination based on sexual orientation throughout the New England states.

In 2001, GLAD filed a "Freedom to Marry" case in Massachusetts on behalf of seven couples, arguing that prohibiting them from marrying was a violation of the equal protection clause of the state constitution [source: GLAD].

In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in favor of GLAD, making Massachusetts the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage. In 2008, GLAD won a similar court battle in Connecticut, leading to the legalization of gay marriage in that state.

Lambda Legal, a non-profit headquartered in New York, is another organization that fights for equal marriage rights. Its big victory was winning a unanimous ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in April 2009 [source: Lambda Legal].

Then, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. James Obergefell and John Arthur James, who had gotten legally married in Maryland, had sued the state of Ohio for its refusal to recognize a same-sex marriage on a spouse's death certificate. The Supreme Court found that the right of same-sex couples to marry is legally protected by the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution. With that ruling, same-sex marriage became legal in every state in the United States.

However, the right to marry, giving same-sex couples the same legal rights and protections as opposite-sex couples, is just one right that gay rights organizations are fighting for. Some others include:

  • Workplace and employment protections: making it illegal to fire someone or discriminate against them at work based on sexual orientation
  • Housing protections: making it illegal to deny someone housing due to sexual orientation
  • Adoption protections: making it legal for same-sex couples to adopt children, and conferring the same parental rights to both parents

Transgender people have been part of the gay rights movement since its inception, and issues related to trans people's rights and protections have become an increasingly visible part of the movement and its goals. In addition to the same workplace, housing, adoption and other rights listed above, in terms of the trans community, gay rights organizations are also advocating for:

  • Inclusive medical care: guaranteeing equal access to medical care for trans people, including advocating for insurance policies to cover surgical and non-surgical transition care
  • Legal recognition of a person's gender: making sure trans people are able to secure legal identification, passports and other necessary documentation that correctly reflects their gender identity
  • Public accommodation protections: making it illegal for trans people to be discriminated against in public spaces like hotels, restaurants, theaters and bathrooms