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Archival collections provide links to the history of the battle for Same-Sex Marriage

May 4, 2015

In the current world, we are subjected to a deluge of contemporary issues that tug society in different directions. Battles for cultural and political change play out daily through news reports and social media. With the barrage of issues and information pelting our consciousness every day, how often do we think about the history behind contemporary issues. What path of events has led us to this point; how have decades changed perceptions that push issues to the surface demanding resolution?

In this edition of Top Shelf, we will examine archival materials that provide historical context for one contemporary flash point:  same-sex marriage. Utilizing the UTSA Libraries Special Collection LGBTQ publications digital collection, I have selected articles that offer perspectives on this contentious issue in the decades prior to the April 2015 Supreme Court hearings.

Cover of the Marquise April 1995

Cover of the Marquise April 1995

The April 1995 edition of the Marquisesummed up the cautious optimism of the time:

Thanks to an historic court case now underway in Hawaii, lesbians and gay men may be on the verge of winning the right to marry – a basic right still denied them in all fifty states. In the past, other people were refused the right to marry – for example, because of their race – until the law was changed to end this denial of a basic human right. Like non-gay people, gays and lesbians need and want the right to marry.[1]

The Hawaii court case, to which the article refers, began in 1991  when a state clerk refused to issue marriage licenses to three same-sex couples. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the refusal was in direct violation of the state Constitution which prohibits discrimination and guarantees equality for all. In 1995, the case was back in lower court where detractors passed a new law attempting to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples citing procreation as the basis for marriage.[2] The same-sex marriage ban continued until 2013 when the State Legislature passed the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act.[3]

Marquise, June 1995, 12.

Marquise, June 1995, 12.

The Marquise article warned that while the Hawaii case looked promising in 1995, a backlash was inevitable, foreseeing that “state legislatures will attempt preemptive strikes against same gender marriage.”[4] Many couples recognized that the battle over same-sex marriage would be a long one and opted to formalize their unions through commitment ceremonies. In June 1995, the Marquise, covered one such union:  San Antonio residents Don Taylor and Bruce Jarstfer “publicly committed themselves to each other as friends, partners, lovers, and husbands.” The ceremony took place at First Universalist Unitarian Church in San Antonio and was attended by 200 friends and relatives.[5]

While images of male couples dominated articles in the Marquise about gay marriage rights in the 1990s, queer women in San Antonio had pondered the same-sex marriage question years before. In 1987, San Antonio lesbian author Frankie Jones examined the benefits of same-sex unions in an article written for the Women’s Community Journal (later called WomanSpace). Jones asked her readers to consider the following question:

Women's Community Journal, March 1987, page 6

Women’s Community Journal, March 1987, page 6

Look at the woman across the table from you. If you had the legal option of marriage, the same as what is now offered to heterosexuals, would you marry her?

Jones listed the benefits of marriage:  insurance coverage, joint income tax returns, next-of-kin rights in case of hospitalization, or in case of death, survivor’s rights.[6] Such considerations provided peace of mind in addition to a safety net if something happened to one partner–without being legally married, these essential benefits were out of reach of same-sex couples. 

WomanSpace followed the marriage battle closely, keeping readers up-to-date as court rulings began to break down barriers against same-sex unions. In December 2003, WomanSpace reported on the historic decision in Massachusetts as it became the first state in the United States “to grant same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage.”[7] While news of Massachusetts constituted a victory, the celebration was short-lived as many states moved to approve constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.[8]

WomanSpace Feb

WomanSpace February 200

San Antonio’s LGBTQ publications are an invaluable source for tracing the history of the battle for same-sex marriage. As these local publications reported on victories and set-backs, they offered commentary on the impact of such events on the lives of queer women and men. As such they are an excellent primary source for examining how the local queer community reacted to and analyzed the struggle to obtain marriage rights. The bulk of these publications have been digitized and are available online and can be viewed by visiting UTSA Libraries Special Collection LGBTQ publications digital portal.

__________________________________________________________________

[1] “Questions and Answers About the Marriage Revolution,” Marquise, Volume 4, No. 4, April 1995, 21.

[2] “Marriage Revolution,”22.

[3] “Same Sex Marriage in Hawaii, Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_Hawaii], accessed May 4, 2015.

[4] “Marriage Revolution,” 21.

[5] Ken Loosemore, “Happily Ever After,” Marquise, July 1995, 12-13.

[6] Frankie Jones, “Legalizing Homosexual Marriages,” Women’s Community Journal, March 1987, 6.

[7] “News from the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas,” WomanSpace, December 2003, 1.

[8] John M. Brode, “Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights,” WomanSpace, February 2005, 1.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. pak152 permalink
    May 6, 2015 8:52 pm

    out of curiosity does UTSA actively collect materials related to the Tea Party movement in San Antonio?

  2. pak152 permalink
    May 6, 2015 8:53 pm

    does UTSA actively collect materials that represent the opposition to SSM? if not why not?

    • Melissa Gohlke permalink*
      May 26, 2015 12:38 pm

      UTSA Libraries Special Collection collects materials from LGBTQ organizations and individuals as a part of our collection development policy. Within these collections there might be items that document opposition to same-sex marriage.

      • pak152 permalink
        May 27, 2015 7:47 pm

        sorry but that is a non-answer. where can one find you collection policy. and if you don’t collect those opposed to SSM why not? shouldn’t they be represented? what about the local Tea Party groups?

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