Excerpted with permission from "Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law,"
The path to marriage equality did not begin, of course, with Evan Wolfson’s Harvard Law School paper. The very fact that Wolfson could conceive of such a paper was itself testament to the efforts of countless gay and lesbian advocates before him, operating in far more difficult circumstances.
A good place to start in assessing the prehistory of the marriage equality movement is the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay organizations in the United States. Founded in Los Angeles in 1950, the Mattachine Society ultimately included chapters around the country, and in the 1950s and 1960s was the nation’s leading gay organization. It took its name from masked critics of ruling monarchs in medieval France. At its inception, the very idea of a gay organization was so radical that the group met only in secret.
The invisibility of the “closet” made mobilizing for lesbian and gay rights all but impossible. Thus, the first strategic step toward achieving equality was, as gay rights scholar and advocate Bill Eskridge has called it, a “politics of protection.” The aim was to create space for gays and lesbians to come together without fear of official harassment. Read more via Salon