Mark Segal

The Godfather of LGBT Marriage Equality

Filed By Mark Segal | April 05, 2013 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Andrew Sullivan, Evan Wolfson, marriage equality, Rob Reiner, Troy Perry

Thumbnail image for MARRIAGE FLOAT WITH ROBIN AND DIANE & TROY AND PHILIPEveryone is predicting how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on marriage equality. Let me give you my prediction.

We already won, no matter which way they rule of the some 200-plus possible rulings. Want proof the battle's over? It's easy to supply.

If Prop. 8 was before the voters of California today or before the state legislature, we'd win. If DOMA was in Congress today, it wouldn't make it to the president's desk, and, if somehow it did, unlike President Bill Clinton, the current president wouldn't sign it. Those two days of hearings on marriage equality had some LGBT activists so enthused with premonitions of victory that they were already handing out credit for victory -- should it go to Evan Wolfson, Andrew Sullivan or even actor Rob Reiner?

The answer is, none of the above.

Each of them has added something to the battle, and each is an incredible asset to our community. But none has much of a history in the war to achieve marriage equality. Yet, if I had to vote for one of the three, it would be for Reiner, for three reasons.

He really gets what this war is about. He has worked to get this issue before the public in California, so that even if the Supreme Court sends the case back to the state, marriage equality will be a fact in California. And, third, he's a gay ally, and one we should all be proud to have speak for us, similar to those non-African-Americans who spoke up during the fight alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and others of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But there's someone to whom even Reiner has to take a back seat.

The Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church, has been called "the godfather of gay marriage." Talking about the battle for or the history of marriage equality without mentioning Perry is like talking about the history of women's rights without mentioning Gloria Steinem, Susan B. Anthony or even Emma Goldman.

Perry literally has fought this battle longer and harder than anyone. Starting in 1970, across the country from one city to another, he applied for marriage licenses for the members of his church and, even under the threat of arrest, performed commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. Most of that time, members of the LGBT community looked the other way, thinking it a fool's mission. He and his church were ridiculed by members of our own community. Most of the first same-sex marriage applications filed in states and cities around the country came from MCC. But, Troy didn't leave it there: He practiced what he preached. After getting legally married in Canada to Phillip Ray De Blieck, he sued the state of California to recognize his marriage. His co-plaintiffs were fellow longtime LGBT marriage activists Robin Tyler and Diane Olson.

That case literally set up the marriage-equality issue in California and made other activists realize this issue was real. When the U.S. Supreme Court rules, it will be due to the diligence of the Rev. Troy Perry, who has fought the court as well as his own community on this issue for more than 40 years.

In 1969, Perry held a meeting to organize his church in New York. That meeting was picketed by members of Gay Liberation Front and Gay Youth since, in the spirit of the day, it was felt that we didn't need a gay religion, since religion was responsible for most of the problems LGBT people faced. Troy came out and spoke with several of the picketers and explained that there were many people out there who were believers in God and, while you might not win them to your cause, he could help them and bring them forward.

I was one of those picketers, and Troy and I have been friends since.


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