A Brief Legislative History of the LGBT Rights Movement

The growth and development of the LGBT community has been marked over the years by political and legal development. The movement, which began with the Stonewall riots in 1969, has slowly taken flight.

The movement had garnered attention at the time and non-profit organizations began to arise like Lamba Legal, a non-profit organization that protects the legal rights of the LGBT community, in 1973 and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a supportive organization, in 1982. Even with all of this change, the LGBT community suffered a set back in 1986 when the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that even in their own home, LGBT citizens did not have a constitutional right to engage in homosexual acts. The decision claiming that their constitutional right to privacy did not extend to LGBT citizens in this case was reversed in 2003.

After what seemed like progress in 1994 when homosexuality was deemed by the World Health Organization and the American Medical Organization to no longer be an illness, The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996. DOMA stipulated that “no state, territory, or possession of the United States or Indian tribe shall be required to give effect to any marriage between persons of the same sex.” DOMA further limited the definition of “marriage” to be between a man and a woman and the definition of “spouse” to be someone of the opposite sex. In the 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional.  

California was the first state in the United States to legalize gay partnership in 1999. It was also the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2008 along with Connecticut. Some states at the time allowed domestic partnerships, but these partnerships did not have all of the protections and provisions that marriage did at the time. The movement still pushed for full marital rights.

After 2010, the LGBT movement seemed to be looking up. Although former president Barrack Obama had started his presidential campaign with his support limited to civil unions, in 2013 he stated that he supported complete marital equality for LGBT couples. Just two years later, LGBT couples were granted that right. The Obergefell v. Hodges decision expanded marital rights to LGBT citizens.

Though this fight for marital equality was successful, the movement continues to challenge discriminatory legislation and practices in the hopes that the LGBT community might one day enjoy the same rights and privileges as their straight and cisgender neighbors.


Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech. “Obergefell v. Hodges.” Oyez.
Rowan, Beth. “Important Supreme Court Decisions in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History.” Infoplease.
“LGBT Rights Milestones Fast Facts.” CNN. May 16, 2017.
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