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ayGay Liberation & the African American Civil Rights Movement: Exploring the Connections Kelly Arruda

Equality is a good start, but it is not sufficient. Equality for queers inevitably means equal rights on straight terms, since they are the ones who determine the existing legal framework. We conform— albeit equally—with their screwed­up system. That is not liberation. It is capitulation. —Peter Thatchell

Recent developments in same­sex marriage have raised emotions, awareness and many questions about equality and rights as well as inquires about the benefits of marriage for society in general. Is the goal to blend into an existing system of rights and privileges or to work toward a new framework of acceptance? To examine these questions, I invite you to take a journey through the past sixty years and visit moments of both the African American and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Civil Rights Movements. By examining the African American Civil Rights Movement, I attempt to survey and assess the advantages and disadvantages of both the assimilationist and liberationist perspectives of the GLBT Movement.

Historical Context
The racist institution of Jim Crow grew out of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 which abolished slavery in the United States. Long after slavery was abolished, however, African Americans continued to suffer cruel injustices throughout the country. The discriminatory system of Jim Crow perpetually placed blacks as inferior to whites in all circumstances. If these laws, both social and legal, were not abided by, African Americans faced severe consequences of punishment and death.

The detestably bigoted establishment pervaded the American culture well into the twentieth century. The laws and etiquette of Jim Crow met resistance through the African American Civil Rights Movement of the mid century. The Movement promoted the dignified treatment of minorities, inducting equality in the areas of education, work, health care, housing, marriage, and

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public life. For instance, it was not until 1948 that President Truman ordered the end of segregation in the U.S. armed forces; schools did not begin desegregation until 1954; and miscegenation laws were not entirely struck down until 1967. In a parallel effort, gays and lesbians were working to combat discriminations of their own. Isolated and invisible, gays and lesbians throughout the country began to quietly network during the 1950s to develop strategic structures that would frame the Gay Liberation Movement of the last sixty years. Those involved in the Gay Liberation Movement collaborated with and benefited from the framework and strategies of the African American Civil Rights Movement. The following is a select chronological account of the two movements.

1950s The 1950s McCarthy Era was a troubled time of great paranoia in America. Anyone suspected of communist activity was investigated and blacklisted. Despite the tight­lipped secrecy and culture of fear, the African American community gained a critical break­through in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. It was a integral step toward equality for the African American community. The ruling was met with tough resistance and the country remained tensely divided. That same year, the U.S. Postal Service placed a ban on One, the first homophile publication to circulate in the United States. The magazine was produced by the Los Angeles liberalist Mattachine Society founded in 1951 by Harry Hay. Then in 1955, the Daughters of Blitis, the first lesbian organization in the U.S., was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco. They also published a magazine, called Ladder, that circulated for years around the country. For many closeted individuals, these publications served as the only link to others like themselves. It was a first step out of isolation.

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Both Mattachine and the Daughters of Blitis were prominent architects in structuring the modern gay movement. They began the work of organizing individuals, creating networks, and g g developin ideolo ies. The movement developed two distinguished perspectives: assimilation and

liberation. According to Craig Rimmerman, the assimilationist approach adopted a civil rights perspective based on political access and legal reform (Rimmerman 14). "The assimilationist approach typically embraces a rights­based perspective, works within the broader framework of the pluralist democracy—one situated within classical liberalism—and fights for a seat at the table" (Rimmerman 5). Liberationists sought a broader, more radical cultural shift in society. They felt it important to reach beyond the political system to a mind change throughout society (Rimmerman 5). They argued that the "assimilationist perspective is far too rooted in 'virtual equality—a state of conditional equality based more on the appearance of acceptance of straight America than on genuine civic parity.' Liberationists challenge 'virtual equality' and emphasize the goals of cultural acceptance, social transformation, understanding, and liberation" (Vaid, quoted in Rimmerman 14).

Though Mattachine was created as a liberationist group, it joined forces with the Daughters of Blitis to adopt an assimilationist strategy. In an effort to change public perspectives of homosexuality, the two groups attempted to create an image of well­adjusted individuals. Their conformist strategy sought out the approval of public figures that would then educate the public about the benevolent nature of homosexuals.

1960s The 1960s brought tremendous turmoil for both the Civil Rights and Gay Liberation Movements. African Americans combated segregation throughout the south and other parts of the country and demonstrated against unfair treatment in all aspects of life. The GLBT community was also facing severe police harassment that would culminate in the Stonewall Riots by the end of the

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decade. Grant Gallup, and African American civil tights activist makes a perceptive connection between the two groups during the sixties. He states, "many of us who went south to work with Dr. King in the sixties were gay. A lot of gay people who could not come out for their own liberation could invest the same energies in the liberation of black people" (Rimmerman 19). The trying 1960s brought about significant progress in laying the groundwork for future gains of both movements. The Freedom Summer of 1964, also called the Mississippi Summer Project, was a concerted effort launched to register African American voters in Mississippi. The state had the lowest African American voter registration in the country. They had been kept away from the polls because of institutionalized discrimination toward poor, uneducated African Americans. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and complicated registration processes, as well as blackmail, harassment, and intimidation tactics all kept African American voters away from the polls. White supremacists targeted volunteers, many of whom were white. Many were assaulted and some even killed. The project ultimately failed to register the voters it had hoped to but became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The media attention garnered from the events gave priority to urgent issues that had been largely ignored.

One such issue was interracial marriage. At that time there were over a dozen states with active miscegenation laws; one of them was Virginia. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia, the law prohibiting marriages of mixed race was deemed unconstitutional. In 1958, Virginia resident Perry Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African American woman, crossed state lines into Washington D.C. to marry. Upon returning home, police barged into their home and invaded their bedroom. The couple was arrested. The judge presiding over their case offered them the choice of moving or going to jail. Infusing his decision with religion, he stated, "Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such

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marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix"
Cruz g ( 80­84). The Lovings challen ed the law in what proved to be a landmark year for interracial

marriage. In delivering the 1967 Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren countered, in the Court's determination, that "under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed upon by the State" (Cruz 80­84). Social scientists agree that several factors contributed to the staunch resistance of interracial marriage. Miscegenation was clearly rooted in fear and ignorance. Some believe fear of losing societal dominance in light of a growing immigration population was the main motive for keeping races separated. Others believe it was primarily based on the public's repulsion over the idea of interracial sex. Still others support it was a matter of economics. In any case, striking down miscegenation laws addressed critical issues of segregated public spaces and legal equality (Cruz 8084). The court's support of individual freedom of choice in marriage built a solid framework from which gays and lesbians would later argue for equality in their own same­sex partnerships.

While African Americans launched their Civil Rights Movement, the GLBT community was combating issues of discrimination as well. They had been battling police harassment throughout the decade. By 1969, the frustration of constant police brutality and mistreatment culminated in the Stonewall Inn Riots in New York City. The days­long incident served as a symbol to galvanize the community into the modern day Gay Liberation Movement.'

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The Stonewall Riots took place in late June 1969 in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. Police harassment

was not uncommon. The GLBT community had been dealing with such harassment for at least the past decade across the country. That particular night, police persecution triggered a unified reaction and riots ensued for hours. Police had to barricade themselves in the bar while they waited for back up. The next evening, GLBT community members and supporters returned to the scene to further protest the police brutality that had become all too common. The exact accounts of what triggered the harassment on that particular night vary, but the targeting of minorities and unnecessary police violence caused a resistance and retaliation from the GLBT patrons at the bar, and subsequently, the movement at large.

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The Stonewall Rebellion inspired a framework for gay rights that is still relevant today. In lib er ationist fashion, they identif ied br oad ar eas of develop ment. Among these was the establishment of a GLBT counterculture that identified the importance of the coming out process to identity formation and politics. They addressed the need for positive visibility in society that might challenge ideas about kinship structure and gender roles, sexism, and diversity. In short, they concluded that the Movement could not be separated from other broader issues, including economic concerns, gender, and race (Rimmerman 24).

Stonewall inspired pride among the GLBT community, and as a result, the Movement became more confident in asserting its rights. Among these was the right to marry, with some couples even attempting marriage at that time. But the issue of marriage was largely contested, particularly among feminist lesbians. Taking a liberationist standpoint, they did not want anything to do with marriage. They felt that they had worked tremendously hard to disassociate from the patriarchal institution of marriage, and they did not see the value of re­creating it among the gay community (Rimmerman 100).

1970s T hen in the 1970s, Chr istian r ight wing gr oups launched attacks against the gay community that reverberate still today. Their campaigns promoted images of homosexuals as deviant, degenerate, and dangerous. Anita Bryant, a Miss America contestant and orange juice model, became a vehement anti­gay activist. A staunch conservative, Bryant gained the support of conservative political and religious groups around the nation, which became a solid force of anti­gay hate rhetoric. The repercussions of the radical right campaign stretched into major issues such as HIV/AIDS resources, gays in the military, and most recently, same­sex marriage (Rimmerman 25­

29).

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While the barrage of attacks threatened some of the gains of previous decades, they also served to solidify and strengthen the Gay Liberation Movement. Many important gay rights organizations grew out of the 70s. However, not all them saw same­sex marriage as a critical component of the gay rights movement at that time. The Human Rights Campaign and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, for example, were among those that felt there were larger issues to tackle. Thus, according to Rimmerman (101), instead of "focusing on the rights of same­sex couples, gay politics at the time focused on securing the rights of individuals against discrimination in employment and on building community institutions and a collective culture."

Yet, despite this lack of formal support, some couples bravely forged ahead and took pioneer steps toward same­sex marriage. Only one year after Stonewall, the first gay couple attempted to marry in Minnesota, and over the next three decades, several more brave couples would attempt marriage (Rimmerman 101). Their efforts, along with several issues that surfaced during the next two decades, caused the Movement to restructure, blending liberationist ideals with practical assimilationist goals.

Eventually organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund reconsidered their position. Still in existence today, these organizations now actively support same­sex marriage. However, these changes were not attained without struggle, structural transformations, and even tragedy. The Sharon Kowalski case, a same­sex baby boom, and the AIDS epidemic all contributed significantly to publicizing awareness among the GLBT in ho miige ls rt s temu erseeaeof its members (Rimmerman 101­102). n nlwpe c tn a i v y av t h vbtgtoe r isu ri ss leoevfee a h y io at f hs u

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1980s­1990s
In the early 80s a woman named Sharon Kowalski suffered serious injuries from an accident that left her debilitated. Her partner, Karen Thompson, petitioned to be named Sharon's legal guardian but was denied legal rights to manage care for her disabled partner. Instead, guardianship was awarded to Sharon's father. Karen fought for eight years before the courts finally transferred legal guardianship to her. Though private, the long­fought battle was also a considerable accomplishment for the community. The near decade long struggle united the lesbian community and prompted a keen awareness of the necessity of legal protections (Rimmerman 101­102).

The essential need for legal, same­sex partnership rights was also made evident by the 1980s AIDS crisis. The epidemic, which suddenly forced tens of thousands of committed gay couples to deal with powerful institutions like hospitals, funeral homes, and state agencies, shed a harsh light on the fact that their commitments were not recognized. Many partners were excluded from visitation by hospitals and family members that refused to accept same­sex relationships. Additionally, hospitals also excluded partners from their loved one's medical information (Rimmerman 101­102).

As gays and lesbians weathered tragically taxing times during the 1980s and into the 1990s, they became critically aware of the discrimination and lack of power affecting their community. They took serious note of family issues and the dire need among gay couples to claim rights that were offered heterosexual couples. These issues precipitated the transition of the movement toward acquiring equal rights for same­sex partnerships and families. Furthermore, it made the community realize that in order to acquire the recognition and rights afforded heterosexual families, it would have to unite, in an assimilationist movement toward legal recognition of same­sex couples.

By the 1990s, more and more couples began questioning the courts about same­sex marriage. Unfortunately, the response to their efforts was not the one they were seeking. The events,

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the players and the outcomes surrounding the efforts to secure recognition of same­sex couples in Hawaii is illustrative of what happened in other areas of the country. In 1996, Hawaii passed a bill that "defined marriage in Hawaii as the union of a man and a woman" (Rimmerman 103). Two years later, that amendment was upheld in a 1998 ballot initiative, and the Hawaii Supreme Court ultimately denied same­sex marriage licenses (Rimmerman 103­104). The Hawaiian trials and resulting legislation gave conservatives a blueprint for conducting and­ gay legislative movements around the country. The conservative, religious right saw to it that same­sex marriage became a wedge issue in the 1996 presidential campaign. Concocted by several groups in 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole presented the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to Congress. It passed through both houses, and ironically, it was (Democratic) President Clinton that signed into law just before the election (Rimmerman 104­105). DOMA was (and is) a demeaning, derogatory, and discriminatory strategy played out by radical conservatives. It was structured so that states would individually take up issues of same­sex marriage, but all same­sex couples would ultimately be left out of federal marriage benefits. They

crafted DOMA to

appear during a presidential campaign year and while Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Firing off unsubstantiated hate rhetoric and preying upon uneducated fears,
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conservatives "warned that if men were allowed to marry other men, 'they would soon be permitted to marry children and other animals"' (Rimmerman 106).

2000s 2003 proved to be another pivotal year for same­sex marriage; it saw the eradication of the last sodomy laws in the country and the first legislation that recognized same­sex marriage. The Lawrence v. Texas decision by the Supreme Court, which overturned existing sodomy laws, gave the

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right to privacy, including the right to make decisions about one's intimate life, to gays and lesbians 9 (Rimmerman 109). By saying that the intimate acts between same­sex couples were not illegal, it destroyed a paramount hurdle toward same­sex marriage. Additionally, it served as a symbolic apology for the degrading shame sodomy laws put on homosexuals. Meanwhile, however, conservatives were quick to react and immediately launched a campaign for a federal ban on same­sex marriage (Rimmerman 108­113). Still, that same year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that "the ban on marriage licenses to gay couples violated the Commonwealth's guarantee of equal protection of the laws" and Massachusetts became the first state in the union to legalize same­sex marriage, adding that, "no separate­but­equal institution of civil

unions would suffice to meet constitutional requirements" (Rimmerman, 113). Another positive development was that the opposition to same­sex marriage seemed to be on the decline. Although still a majority, according to Gallup polls, between 1996­2004, the percentage of those who opposed same­sex marriage dropped by 7 percentage points, going from 68% to 61% (Avery, et al. 75­76). Again, the conservative right was quick to respond, stating that a Federal Marriage Amendment was the "only way to adequately deal with this judicial assault on the sanctity of g g marria e bein defined as God intended it" that is, "the union of one man and one woman"

(Rimmerman 113). Their campaigns against same­sex marriage got ot the intended results. By the
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summer of 2008, twenty­six states had passed constitutional amendments to ban same­sex marriage. A number of these states also explicitly included language to bar civil unions and domestic partnership benefits (State Legislatures 19). Although the Federal Marriage Amendment has not passed, DOMA keeps same­sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits and protections, while conservative groups keep chipping away at some of the rights provided by particular states. An example of this retrenchment of gay and lesbian rights is the passing of California Prop 8, a state constitutional ban of same­sex marriage that passed (52% to 48%) last Fall.

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When California's Supreme Court ruled to overturn a ban on same­sex marriage in 2008 and gay couples quickly lined up to marry, a conservative Evangelical and Christian coalition immediately launched a historic campaign to defeat same­sex marriage. They utilized an incredible sense of media savvy and misinformation to deceive voters, deploying a variety of methods and tactics. Among these were robo­calls targeting communities of color using presidential candidate Barak Obama's voice. In the calls, he stated that he was not in support of same sex marriage. The coalition also took advantage of Internet social networks such as MySpace and Facebook and targeted numerous minority communities with multilingual ads. In addition, they staged events like a 40­day fast and 100 days of prayer, and sponsored a bus tour with rally stops throughout the state. Misinformation was rampant. Parishioners were warned that churches would be forced to perform same­sex marriage or they would risk losing non­profit tax status; teachers would be forced to introduce same­sex marriage as equal to traditional marriage in their curriculum; and constituents were told that this vote would not take away benefits from same­sex couples. The unprecedented 40 million dollars spent on the state campaign and the unconscionable misinformation proved a devastating blow for same­sex marriage rights; on November 4, 2008, California voters approved the measure that changed the state constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to opposite­sex couples (Khan 22­24).

Today The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Movement has made great strides over the past sixty years. They have fought and continue to fight for an accepted identity, health resources, and political safety nets. Though they have reached significant milestones, the community is far from achieving equality. Currently, a major problem facing the GLBT community is workplace safety. Lambda Legal states that the most frequently addressed topic on their help line is workplace

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issues. In a 2005 survey about workplace fairness, Lambda found that nearly forty percent of respondents had experienced some form of on­the­job harassment within the previous five years. Currently, there is no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Another concern, requiring serious attention, is school safety for GLBT students. A recent study compiled by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network found that virtually 9 of 10 GLBT students faced some form of harassment in school and nearly three fourths were exposed to frequent derogatory remarks. The study also found that schools with supportive staffs, policies, and programs had lower incidences of harassment. Yet, very few schools implement these aids. For example, only one third of students surveyed reported having a Gay­Straight Alliance at school. Similarly, only eleven states have safety policies with specific language protecting students against harassment based on sexual orientation. However, the issue that receives the most attention on the national stage is marriage. It is the most heated issue of equality being debated today both outside and inside the gay and lesbian movement.

The Case for Same­Sex Marriage

There are both practical, psychological, and ideological reasons for supporting same­sex marriage. According to Linda J. Waite, marriage can be seen as a long­term contract with an insurance policy of sorts that compiles the couples' economic and social resources to maximize efficiency and well­being. Married people live longer, and enjoy healthier, wealthier and happier lives. In addition, marriage promotes behaviors that benefit society as a whole (Waite 67). Some practical reasons for marriage include spousal health benefits and access to medical care processes, combined tax liability, property rights, spousal social security benefits, inheritance, and parenting rights. There are currently over 1,000 laws that explicitly benefit married couples. It is ironic, then,

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that the far­right, who adamantly preaches about protection of values and families, is so passionately against the equal distribution of those safeguards. Same­sex marriage also provides a societal opportunity to embrace the diversity of a postmodern couple. "Admitting gays to the wedding banquet," states Judith Stacey, "invites gays and nongays alike to consider the kinds of place settings that could best accommodate the diverse needs of all contemporary families" (Stacey 490). She goes on to say, that if "we begin to value the meaning and quality of intimate bonds over their customary forms, people might devise marriage and kinship patterns to serve diverse needs" (Stacey 490).

Same­sex marriage may also provide us with paradigms for more egalitarian and satisfying spousal relationships. Though the scientific study of same­sex couples is in its early stages, preliminary evidence appears to support the view that same­sex couples are more egalitarian in their family roles. Household labor, childcare and power are more equally divided among same­sex couples than heterosexual couples. In addition, since "gender seems to shape domestic values and practices more powerfully than sexual identity" she concludes that "same­sex couples tend to be more compatible than heterosexual couples" (Stacey 498).

Supporting same­sex marriage also offers benefits to the children of those families. Currently, unmarried same­sex couples face discrimination in a variety of areas pertaining to family life. Fertilization, adoption, and parenting rights are an obvious few. Under current conditions, children of same­sex families suffer from legal obstacles regarding their family structure and are frequently ostracized at school. "Indeed," states Stacey, "the major documented special difficulties that children in gay families experience derive directly from legal discrimination and social prejudice" (Stacey, 494). She goes on to say that "[]wing in families that are culturally invisible or despised, the children suffer ostracism by proxy, forced continually to negotiate conflicts between loyalty to

home, mainstream authorities, and peers" (Stacey 495).

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The Future Stacey's views, however, are not shared by all within the gay and lesbian community. Liberationists believe that taking up same­sex marriage today a misstep since, according to polls, the majority of America is not ready to embrace same­sex couples equally. Rather than taking up an issue that has few chances for success, liberationists believe we should be focusing on federal workplace protections, hate crimes legislation, school safety for GLBT youth and prevention of youth suicide, while continuing to support AIDS/HIV education and resources. Yet, same­sex marriage is not incompatible with the liberationists' goals. Same­sex marriage has great potential to change stigma for children and adults of same­sex families, and it can lead to tolerance and eventual acceptance of new forms of the postmodern family.

Same­sex marriage will continue to be a divisive issue for our society for the foreseeable future. Divisions between assimilationist and liberationist perspectives, as well as political and legal conflicts between same­sex marriage supporters and the conservative right, will continue to flare emotions for some time to come. With the assistance of positive media portrayal and social science research, perhaps there is reason to hope for positive policy changes, including same­sex marriage, in the future. Ultimately, we may find that we are all fighting for the same thing—dignified civil treatment of individuals and mutual respect for our most respected societal institution—marriage. After all, in the end, Separate is Never Equal.

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Works Cited

1. Avery, Alison, Justin Chase, Linda Johansson, Samantha Litvak, Darrel Montero , and Michael g Wydra. "America's chan ing attitudes toward homosexuality, civil unions, and same­gender marriage:

1977­2004." Social Work 52.1 Uan 2007): 71(9). Academic OneFile. Gale. UMass Dartmouth. 22 Apr. 2009 .

2. Collins Chiqw*ta A., et al. "Segregation and Mortality: The Deadly Effects of Racism?" Sociological Forum, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 1999): 495 (30). JSTOR. UMass Dartmouth. 28 Apr. 2009 .

3. GLSEN, Inc., The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. 2009. 28 April 2009 .

g 4. Khan, Surin . "Tying the not: how they got Prop 8. (ESSAY) (Proposition 8) (Essay)." The Gay &

Lesbian Review Worldwide 16.2 (March­April 2009): 22(3). Academic OneFile. Gale. UMass Dartmouth. 22 Apr. 2009 .

5. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. 2009. 28 April 2009 .

i 6. Rimmerman, Craig A. The Lesbam and Gay Movements. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2008.

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7. "Same­Sex Marriage. (TRENDS AND TRANSITIONS) (Brief article)." State Legislatures 34.7 Ouly­August 2008)­.19(l). Academic OneFile. Gale. UMass Dartmouth. 22 Apr. 2009 .

8. Stacey, Judith. "Gay and Lesbian Families: Queer Like Us." Family in Transition. Ed. Arlene Skolnick, et. al. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. 480­502.

9. Waite , Linda J. "Why Marriage Matters." Points and Counterpoints: Controversial Relationship and Family Issues in the 21st Century. Ed. Marilyn Coleman, et. al. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company, 2003. 64­69.

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