Long Before Edie Windsor, Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Fought For Gay Rights

Edith Windsor’s same-sex marriage fight led to an important Landmark Ruling, in 2013, although it was limited to thirteen states and District of Columbia. It declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and was signed by President Clinton. The bill defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In essence, Windsor, sued the Federal Government claiming that the law, by recognizing only marriages between a man and a woman, unconstitutionally singled out same-sex marriage partners for “differential treatment.”

Later, the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, in the case Obergefell vs. Hodges, granted same-sex married couples in all states federal recognition for the first time and rights to federal benefits that were heretofore granted to heterosexual couples. The movement that Windsor had spearheaded had come to fruition. She was considered a LGBT “hero.”

Congressman John Lewis Labels LGBTQ Rights Civil Rights

However, even before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions, Lewis supported same-sex marriage in the 2000s and the decade before! In 1996, he delivered a speech against DOMA. This was foresighted because according to a Pew poll, two-thirds of Americans were against gay marriage. As early as 2003, in a Boston Globe editorial, Lewis wrote “I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage or same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

“I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same same-sex marriages.”

Lewis was opposed to civil unions and favored more equitable marriage. Said he, “marriage is a basic human right.”

Co-Sponsor of Bills to Advance Rights of LGBTQ People

Georgia Representative Lewis co-sponsored more than a dozen bills throughout his long career in office. Lewis was the lead sponsor of the Equality Act which prohibits discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity and the Respect for Marriage Act, that aimed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

In 2015 when same-sex marriage was legalized in every state by the Supreme Court, Lewis issued this statement:

“As a nation, we cannot say we are committed to equality, if we do not mandate equality for every citizen. You cannot have equality for some in America and not equality for all. This is another major step down a very long road toward the realization of a fair and just society. We should embrace the decision of the United States Supreme Court. It is now the law of the land.”

Four years later, he stated his reasons for allowing adoption by same-sex couples. “Too many children dream of a stable, loving family. Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person or are not married.”

Lewis never stopped fighting for what he believed in. Lucky for us that his definition of civil rights included the LGBTQ community!

When Your Child is Gay

When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know

For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting as well as gay and lesbian content. For the past two years, Wesley has concentrated almost exclusively on the lesbian and gay community, specifically on advising straight parents of gay children on how to be better parents and raise happy, well-adjusted adults

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