Three O’Clock In the Morning

The 1970s was the decade where “the love that darn’t speak its name” became “the love that won’t shut up.” The 1970s saw immense change…both for the good, and for the bad. It also saw the rise of the most prolific and deadliest epidemic since the Black Plague (which won’t be talked about in this post… it’ll get its own). Although the gay rights movement hit momentum in the 70s, so too did the anti-gay movements. In America, particularly, the rise of the Christian Right saw anti-gay/moral protest take the national stage.

In the United States, the Stonewall Riots officially began what many consider the modern gay rights movement. In reality, it was simply the tipping point from quiet activism, to activism on a national stage. As a result of the Riots, and the aftermath, 1970 saw the first Gay Pride parades in New York City and Los Angeles, the first Gay-in (a pacifist protest idea taken from the sit-ins of the Civil Rights movements)in San Francisco, and the writing of A Gay Manifesto by Carl Wittman. Wittman’s Manifesto, published in January of 1970 by The Red Butterfly, called San Francisco a “refugee camp for homosexuals,” and listed several things the gay rights movement should focus on. Wittman admitted it was the view of one man, and several gay rights groups disagreed with his particular ideas on how the gay rights movement should proceed.

The leftover momentum of the Stonewall Riots resulted in the establishment of the Gay Liberation Front at the London School of Economics on 13 October 1970. The formation of the GLF was a direct result of a court case, one which annulled a marriage because both parties were legally men under British law, although one lived as a woman. The decision to annul the marriage set a legal precedent in the UK, stating that the gender section of a birth certificate could not be changed by transexuals.

Australia saw two gay rights groups formed in 1970 and 1971: CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) and Society Five. As a British colony, Australia inherited the Buggery Act of 1533 and the Labouchere Amendment when it was formally colonised in the 18th century. With Australian independence in 1931, those laws stayed. The beginnings of the Australian gay rights movement was the creation of CAMP and Society Five. Although The Australian government repealed the sodomy laws in South Australia in 1975, it’d take between 1975 and 1997 for all of Australia to repeal sodomy laws.

In 1971, Austria, Costa Rica and Finland decriminalised homosexuality, and set the age of consent as equal to that of a straight couple. In the Netherlands, the age of consent for homosexuals is lowered from 18 to 16, the same age of consent as straight couples. In America, however, the influence of Christian organisation on legal decisions began to be seen. Although Colorado and Oregon successfully repealed their sodomy laws, Idaho did not. Idaho initialled repealed its sodomy laws, but they were quickly reinstated after political and social outcry by Idaho’s large Mormon and Catholic population. (Idaho, by the way, still has a legal ban on sodomy).

In October 1972, the US Supreme Court made its first official ruling on same-sex marriage by dismissing a case. In May 1970, two gay students at the University of Minnesota, Richard Baker and James McConnell applied for a marriage licence. The county clerk of the Hennepin County District Court denied the application on the grounds that same sex marriage was illegal in Minnesota. The students sued the clerk, Gerald Nelson, and the case ended up before the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1971. The Court declared, in Baker v. Nelson, that Minnesota’s limiting marriage to one natural born man and one natural born woman did not violate US Constitution. Baker appealed, and the case found itself before the US Supreme Court. The case was dismissed by SCOTUS for “want of a substantial federal question.” which created Baker v. Nelson as precedent in further same-sex marriage cases in the United States.

For the first time, in December 1971, a political party in the United States made a stance on anti-homosexuality laws. The Libertarian Party (see notes for explanation) called for the repeal of all victimless criminal laws as part of their party platform, including sodomy. Frank Kameny, who was fired from the US Army Map Service in 1957 under Executive Order 10450, ran for US Congress for the District of Columbia (DC has a congressional seat, but it’s none voting..1971 was the first year this seat was elected). Kameny, the first openly gay Congressional candidate, lost, but formed the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of DC.

The United States wasn’t the only country that saw religious organisations demanding the maintenance of the morality status quo. In the UK, British Christians held the Nationwide Festival of Lights in 1971 as a protest agains the development of the UK into a permissive society, in particular the previous decriminalisation of sodomy. The GLF interrupted the festival with protests, but the Christian concern was heard. In 1971 the UK passed the Nullity of Marriage Act, which defined a marriage as between a legal male and a legal female (e.g.: gender specified on UK Birth Certificate. The Nullity of Marriage Act was only legal in England and Wales, although Northern Ireland and Scotland soon followed with their own versions.

The world saw, in 1972, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway, and the passage of gay rights ordinances in San Francisco, Ann Arbor Michigan and East Lansing Michigan. Speeches at the Democratic National Convention advocated for a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party Platform, most notably by George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for President. McGovern was ignored, and the Republicans used McGovern’s speech against him in the general election. In antithesis, Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee for President, campaigned on conservative values and promised to appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who would uphold homosexuality laws. The 1972 Presidential election saw, for the first time, gay rights playing a role in a national campaign. The 1972 Presidential election also saw the beginnings of what would become the prominence and political power of the Christian right in American politics.

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association, a professional organisation respected world wide for its diagnostic tools in psychiatry, de-classifies homosexuality as a mental illness in the DSM-II. In the UK, the first dedicated 24-hour helpline for LGBT persons was established in London. The London Icebreakers was staffed entirely by LGBT people, and focused primarily on support for consenting adults.

The United States and the United Kingdom saw opposite affects of openly gay candidates in 1974. In the UK, Maureen Colquhorn came out as the fist lesbian Labour MP. When she was elected, she was married, and after her coming out the Labour Party refused to support her. She lost her next election. In the United States, Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council making her the first openly gay serving elected official in America.

By the end of 1975, homosexuality was decriminalised in South Australia, California and Panama and the United States had two openly gay serving elected officials: one in Michigan and one in the Massachusetts State House. The first half of the 1970s seemed to propel gay rights onto a national stage in several countries. The backlash for so much social change was yet to come.

Part XX: Homosexuality, Politics and the 1970s-part 2

[Political Note: In the United States, there are, in reality, only two political parties. The US has been a two party system since the 1780s, although they often deny this. There are, however, several third parties which attempt to break through as a third party; the Libertarian Party is one. They believe, essential in free-market laissez-faire capitalism, small government, limited military, and freedom of association (which is a long explanation). In essence, most Libertarian candidates in the United States are more socially liberal than the Democratic Party (for the US…they don’t believe in socialism, too much government interference) and more fiscally conservative than the Republican Party (who, actually, isn’t all that fiscally conservative in reality). The Libertarian Party of the US formed in December 1971. ALSO: In the US, there are presidential elections every 4 years (so 1972 and 1976), Congressional elections every 2 years in which the entire House of Representatives is elected (or re-elected.. no term limits) and 1/3 of the US Senate is elected (or re-elected, no term limits…that makes 33 senators) and a goodly number of state governors.]

[History Note: In the 1972 Presidential election, George McGovern lost. Richard Nixon’s campaign, combined with McGovern’s lack of support form his own party, his campaign tactics, and his temper, allowed for a landslide victory. Although gay rights played a small part in the election, and for the first time citizens between 18 and 20 could vote (the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18), the LGBT community hadn’t yet become a large voting bloc outside of the larger and more liberal cities. Nixon’s landslide has only been surpassed once.. by Ronald Reagan in 1984. The rise of conservatism (which I’ll talk about a little more in the 80s) began with Nixon’s election…although, in reality, Nixon wasn’t all that conservative.]


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