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They appealed in vain to National Gay Rights Advocates (now defunct), the Lesbian Rights Project (now the National Center for Lesbian Rights), the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal, where a young lawyer named Evan Wolfson wanted to take the case—but his bosses, who were opposed to pursuing gay marriage, wouldn’t let him. “I had dated other women, but I didn’t fall in love with anybody who saw life the way I did until I met Ninia,” Dancel, now 54, recalled recently over dinner with Baehr at a restaurant in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood.At the time they tried to get married, Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel had been together for six months. After three months, Dancel gave Baehr a diamond-and-ruby engagement ring to signify their commitment.
But what it achieved was remarkable: not just a Supreme Court decision but a revolution in the way America sees its gay citizens.
“It’s a virtuous cycle,” Andrew Sullivan, the author and blogger whose 1989 essay on gay marriage for The New Republic gave the idea political currency, told me. And the more normal we seem, the more human we seem, the more our equality seems obviously important.” Some gay activists harbor a certain amount of nostalgia for the days when their movement was seen as radical, deviant, extreme.
The Constitution grants them that right.”The plaintiffs’ arguments in Obergefell were strikingly similar to those Baker made back in the 1970s.
And the Constitution has not changed since Baker made his challenge (save for the ratification of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, on congressional salaries).
By now, it has become a political cliché to wonder at how quickly public opinion has changed on gay marriage in recent years—support for “marriages between homosexuals,” measured at 60 percent this year, was just 27 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1996. The fight for gay marriage was, above all, a political campaign—a decades-long effort to win over the American public and, in turn, the court.
It was a campaign with no fixed election day, focused on an electorate of nine people.
“But there was a complete lack of understanding of the existence and common humanity of gay people.”Friday’s decision wasn’t solely or even primarily the work of the lawyers and plaintiffs who brought the case.
It was the product of the decades of activism that made the idea of gay marriage seem plausible, desirable, and right.
Today, when many Americans think of gay people, they may think of that nice couple in the next apartment, or the family in the next pew at church, or their fellow parents in the PTA.
(Baker and Mc Connell are still together, living a quiet life as retirees in Minneapolis.) When three same-sex couples in Hawaii were refused marriage licenses in 1990, no national gay-rights group would help them file a lawsuit. Friday’s in Honolulu and ended on top of a mountain, where Baehr wanted to take in the view and Dancel wanted to show her the engine of her car.