Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality

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Following the historic Supreme Court verdict that will bring same-sex marriage to every corner of the United States, we look back at ten unsung heroes who you can thank for equality.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Frank Kameny
A lifelong activist for equality who was truly before his time, without Dr Kameny the gay rights movement would never have gained the early traction it needed.

As head of Mattachine Society of Washington, Dr Kameny organised the first protest outside the White House in 1965, to demand equal treatment for gay employees – in just the first step of his lifelong battle for equality. Incredibly, he first raised the issue of same-sex marriage back in 1974.

It would be another 49 years until President Barack Obama signed an executive order outlawing discrimination in the workplace, but Kameny’s vision of a world where gay people were treated with dignity and respect was a beacon of light for all.

He passed away in 2011 – a year after personally witnessing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which allowed gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
The Stonewall queens
Though Kameny’s protests helped take early gay rights to Washington, it was the riots sparked at New York’s Stonewall Inn in 1969 that took them to the streets.

The heroes that history remembers are too often pale and male, but it’s important to remember the Stonewall riots and resulting gay rights groups belonged to everyone.

Early breakers of the mould like Sylvia Rivera made their voices heard, ensuring the voices of drag queens and trans women of colour were heard loud and clear.

Rivera was a critic of same-sex marriage and the “assimilationist” approach, but her activism was invaluable to LGBT rights.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Billie Jean King
It’s hard to overstate the impact that Billie Jean King had on US culture when she first spoke about her sexuality back in 1981.

The athlete broke down barriers when she acknowledged her relationships with women for the first time – and the former tennis world number one picked up 39 Grand Slam titles across her career.

As one of the first true American icons to come out, the tennis star changed people’s perspectives – fostering the acceptance that led to today’s popular support for LGBT rights and marriage equality.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Julie and Hillary Goodridge
Today marks the end to what will likely be the final major Supreme Court action on same-sex marriage.

A large group of couples, families and widowers serve as plaintiffs in the case known as ‘Obergefell v Hodges’, and across all the cases on the issue there are hundreds of proud LGBT people and allies who have challenged for their rights.

However, it was Massachusetts court decision ‘Goodridge V Department of Public Health’ that brought same-sex marriage to the first US state back in 2004, on behalf of Julie and Hillary Goodridge.

Though the Goodridges eventually went their separate ways, they were the first same-sex couple in America to both marry and divorce with exactly the same rights as any other couple.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
The Westboro Baptist Church
When compiling a list of heroes of equality, the controversial Kansas church – known for ‘God Hates Fags’ signs and picketing funerals – will likely not be at the top of many lists.

But it’s important to recognise the impact that their message has had, severely undermining the efforts of opponents of LGBT rights to be seen as anything other than hateful bigots.

By spreading a literal message of hatred, they allowed the debate to entirely become love versus hate – a rhetoric that could really only ends one way.

So let’s raise a glass to Shirley, Fred and the gang: they’ve done more to help equality than they ever intended.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Gene Robinson
Gene Robinson made history back in 2003 – when he was appointed as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.

There was more outcry when he tied the knot with then-partner Mark Andrew in 2008 – but Robinson has been a consistent voice for equality, challenging the divide between LGBT rights and religion.

Forcing debates on his issue within his church and many others, Robinson led us to the present day where the majority of religious voters in the US support equality.

After a decade, Robinson retired as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2013.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Queen Latifah and Madonna
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact time that the concept of same-sex marriage reached a tipping point in popular culture, with Friends and the Simpsons taking controversial punts on the issue in 1996 and 2005.

However, when music icons Queen Latifah and Madonna officiated a mass wedding at the Grammys in January 2014, it was not a ratings grab but a true celebration of love.

Shortly after gay weddings were everywhere on TV, from Modern Family to Glee – and they couldn’t have been less controversial.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Joe Biden
Things aren’t looking up for the gaffe-prone Vice President, who after nearly eight years of on-the-job training, is likely to be trounced by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries if he runs for President.

However, the politician can be truly proud of his contribution to equality. He famously forced Barack Obama’s hand on same-sex marriage by backing it himself in May 2012, while the President was still officially ‘evolving’ on the issue.

A book last year claimed that “chaos erupted inside the West Wing” after news of Biden’s comments – and within days Obama had also come out in favour of same-sex marriage.

Lightning struck again when the VP backed an executive order banning anti-LGBT workplace discrimination last year, when the President had already rebuffed calls for executive action.

Mr Biden got his way on that occasion as well, with Obama reversing his position again and signing an order just two months later.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Edie Windsor
Rights activist Edith Windsor, a former technology manager at IBM, became an overnight rights hero in 2013 – as the lead plaintiff in the case that led the US Supreme Court to strike down as the Defence of Marriage Act.

Windsor’s partner of many years, Thea Clara Spyer, passed away in 2009 – and Edie Windsor challenged for her right to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses that any straight widow would be entitled to.

She was victorious in her attempt to strike down parts of DOMA, but the court declined at the time to deliver a decisive ruling on same-sex marriage.

Love wins: The unsung heroes to thank for equality
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
It would be an affront to suggest that the Supreme Court justices decided today’s case on anything other than merit –  but liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves mention for her ferocious and consistent legal defence of equality.

The second female and first Jewish justice has been one of the strongest consistent voices on the court in favour of LGBT equality as well as women’s rights – earning her the nickname ‘Notorious RBG’ online for her impassioned defences of equality.

Ginsburg, who shows no sign of slowing down at 82, has previously outraged anti-gay activists by herself officiating a number of same-sex weddings, both leading up to and during the case.

In one private wedding last month, she declared two men married “by the powers vested in me by the Constitution of the United States” – emphasising the word Constitution.