Last edited: July 31, 2005

Gay Rights Leaders Applaud Court Decision

The Trentonian, June 28, 2003
600 Perry St., Trenton, NJ 08602
Fax: 609-394-1358

By Scott Frost, Staff Writer

June 26 will mark a new era in the gay rights movement.

Possibly the biggest national win for gay equality in the United States ever, yesterday’s 6-3 Supreme Court decision to strike down bans on sodomy statutes drew glowing reactions from local and national gay rights leaders.

“Glory hallelujah,” Toby Grace, of Trenton, a board member with the Trenton Gay and Lesbian Civic Association and the editor of Out in Jersey magazine said. “We felt our time would come.”

Grace, who said he has been fighting the gay rights battle since the late 1960s, said yesterday’s ruling is something gays and lesbians have been fighting for since the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City.

Deemed the start of the gay rights movement in America, Grace said it has been a long, strenuous fight for equality ever since the owners and patrons of the popular Lower East Side gay community rioted over the treatment by the New York City Police Department.

“If you told me I could live to see this day in 1969 with the Stonewall Riots, I would have said you were crazy,” said Grace, who attended the historic Union Square March prompted by the riots a few days following the event. “I never knew it would go this far, because in the beginning we just wanted to live our lives, wanted people to leave us alone and to stop beating us up.

“It’s a cornerstone (decision) because now there’s the idea that we can’t be compared to criminals just because of what we were born to be.”

Based on a case in Texas where two men were arrested, fined $200 and spent a night in jail for a misdemeanor sex charge in 1998, yesterday’s high court ruling struck down a law that made homosexual sexual activity (sodomy) a crime.

Until yesterday, police in a number of states had the right to arrest homosexuals and/or heterosexuals engaged in oral or anal sex.

Of the 13 states with sodomy laws, four prohibit oral and anal sex between same-sex couples and nine ban consensual sodomy for everyone.

“Today the U.S. Supreme Court closed the door on an era of intolerance and ushered in a new era of respect and equal treatment for gay Americans,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal, a gay legal organization that fights for gay rights. “This historic civil rights ruling promises real equality to gay people in our relationships, our families and our everyday lives.

“This ruling starts an entirely new chapter in our fight for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.”

Although the gay rights fight isn’t over—Vermont is the only state to legalize same-sex marriages—many feel yesterday’s decision now changes political history forever—tracing back to founding fathers’ signing of the Declaration of Independence.

“This is a large step, but only the first step and it does open the door for other things,” said Elaine McNeely, the founder of the New Hope Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “But we are not protected under the Declaration of Independence because ‘All men are created equal.’

“If it would be written again they would say all people, black, white, male, female, gay or straight would be created equal. We just want the same rights and freedoms to love who we choose.”

McNeely has been fighting for gay equality in New Hope—a town known for its prominent gay community—since the early 1990s and thinks the ultimate win toward gay equality will only come after she could legally marry her lifemate, Claire.

Since moving from Massachusetts, McNeely worked hard to get a 1999 law passed in New Hope to protect homosexuals from bias attacks.

She’s questioned public officials’ recent statement against same-sex marriages.

Citing former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge’s move in 1999 to keep same-sex marriages illegal, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s recent inflammatory remarks about gays and Antonion Scalia’s protest of yesterday’s decision, McNeely says fear is the primary motive behind such politicians’ statements.

“Judges like (Scalia) are worried that we are a threat to traditional marriages,” McNeely said. “They only look at the sexual end.

“Heterosexuals don’t have a monopoly on love.”

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