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2014-01-21 04:10 pm

When Harry Married Bob

In 1973 Harry Freeman married Bob Jones at Boston’s Old West Methodist Church. Having a Christian ceremony was important to them. They had both been students in seminary school, and although they chose not to pursue careers with the Church, they remained deeply committed to God, the Christian faith, and to the development of spiritual life on earth.

The night before their wedding the Bishop of the New England Conference warned them that if they proceeded with their ceremony they put Reverend William Alberts' career at risk. Alberts was the minister at Old West and, as we saw in the last post, he was deeply committed to a wide range of progressive social issues. He also was not easily intimidated. Just as he believed in openly fighting racism within the Church, he believed in the right of same-sex couples to marry. The wedding proceeded as planned.


Reproduced with the permission of the photographer

Well, not exactly. Many friends and even some family were invited to attend, but no one expected to walk into a church full to overflowing. Everyday Bostonians turned out to show their support for them as a couple and for the rights and dignity of lesbians and gays in general. Harry knows this because at one point in the ceremony they held an “open mic” session during which folks were invited to come up and talk about why they were there and what the day meant to them.

Of all the people to speak, there were two groups that Harry remembers most. The first were members of the local chapter of the National Organization of Women, the first and most influential national body to emerge from the 1960s women’s movement. These women’s presence is particularly significant because at that time NOW’s leadership was working hard to keep lesbians from having any kind of visible presence in the organization. NOW president Betty Friedan had in 1969 described lesbians in the organization as a “lavender menace.”

Rita Mae Brown, in Lavender Me... Digital ID: 1582297. New York Public Library
[click through to visit NYPL.org]

Issues of special concern to lesbians were not permitted on NOW’s official agenda until 1971. The women who went to support Harry and Bob stood up to say that their wedding was precisely the kind of thing NOW should be supporting.

The other memorable group to stand and speak was a typical-looking young, white, heterosexual couple with young children in tow. Unknown to Harry or Bob, they came simply to show their support for the newlyweds, and to stand in solidarity with the fight against prejudice toward lesbians and gays.

Not a single word of protest was breathed that day, despite the major media coverage leading up to the event. The “religious right” had not yet mobilized. That would come later.

I learned these details from Harry Freeman-Jones in a recent phone interview. I rely heavily on oral history to uncover the undocumented past, but luckily for us the entire ceremony was recorded by Boston’s local NPR radio affiliate. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to hear the voices of everyone who spoke that day. Hopefully. Who knows if the tape has been preserved?
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2014-01-07 09:41 am

The Gay Red Herring

One of the big news stories before Christmas 2013 was the United Methodist church's defrocking of Rev. Frank Schaefer for officiating at his son's marriage. His son is gay, as is the man he married. This week's blog entry is about a different Methodist minister who was removed from the church in 1973 on similar grounds. While in Boston I interviewed Rev. William E. Alberts two days before the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry announced its decision to defrock Schaefer.

Alberts was not actually defrocked; his bishop deemed him "unappointable" and was subsequently forced to retire after he officiated the marriage of Harry Freeman and Bob Jones, who I'll write about next week. According to Alberts, however, his removal from the church had nothing to do with having officiated a gay marriage. It was a red herring directing attention away from the deeper problem of racism within the Southern New England Methodist conference.

In 1964, Boston's renovated Old West Methodist Church was re-opened, with a grand vision to establish it as the voice of Methodism in Boston. Alberts was brought on board as co-minister with special responsibility to develop experimental programs that provided "services to humanity." As Martin Luther King called for racial justice and Lyndon Johnston called for a War on Poverty, so followed the churches -- at least on the surface.

Rev. Alberts earned a PhD from Boston University in psychology and pastoral counselling in 1961 while serving at Lafayette St. United Methodist Church in Salem, Massachusetts when he was handpicked for the position at Old West. When he took up his new post he quickly forged connections with diverse community members: the Cambridge Street church became home to music groups and a theatre company, and a refuge for hippies, activists, radicals and Cuban relief workers. The experience not only changed the community, it also changed Alberts.

Angered by police violence against the so-called hippies who flocked to Boston in 1968, Alberts dressed like a hippie and was arrested on the Boston Common with two young men. "I used the denial of our rights, upon arrest, to dramatize in a Boston Globe story the mistreatment by police of the thousands of hippies who had flocked to the Boston Common. "In 1971 I was arrested with several other anti-Vietnam War demonstrators at a sing-in in the Cambridge Draft Board office and did 8 days at the Billerica House of Correction; and the Boston Globe published my daily diary ;about that jail experience."

According to Alberts, however, in the eyes of his superiors his most controversial action was to stand with his African American brethren in support of the fight against racism within the church.

In 1969, the New England Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) requested the conference allocate $500,000 a year for three years for black economic and community development programs. This request was inspired by James Forman's delivery of the Black Manifesto at the Riverside Church in New York City, one of the most prominent white Protestant churches in America. The Manifesto demanded half a billion dollars be given "reparations" from American Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. The funds would be used to establish a farming cooperative, four publishing houses, four black television networks, a research centre for training in communications, a grant to the National Welfare Rights Organization, an International Black Appeal, a black Anti-Defamation League, and a black university. The BMCR was more modest -- requesting, not demanding, for example -- but they were equally steadfast in their commitment to achieving racial justice through and in their church and community.

In a 1970 Boston Globe account of the meeting Alberts, who is of white heritage, and colleague Rev. William B. McClain, who is of African American heritage, described how after the proposal was advanced, "a white racist Christian mind set surfaced." Eventually some funds were granted, but it was a fraction of the original request.

Two years later, when a black pastor was passed over in favour of a white pastor for promotion to a church with a predominantly African American congregation, the BMCR requested a formal investigation into the possibility that racism was a factor in the decision-making process. Once again, Alberts was a vocal supporter who stood with McClain and other BCMR members.

As Alberts sees it, the gay marriage he officiated in April 1973 provided the excuse his superiors needed to get rid of him. The bishop demanded that he not perform the ceremony, but Alberts ignored the warning.

Interestingly, the gay marriage issue did not provide the traction the bishop needed and he resorted to even more sordid tactics to achieve his goal, but that story will have to wait for the book. (So, too, will the twist to this entire affair: the bishop who deemed Alberts "unappointable" was African American.)

Alberts' story reveals something that is becoming increasingly evident in my research. In the mid-1960s, those with authority within organized religion were open to permitting exploration of new ideas about social change and social justice circulating at the time, including the call to embrace homosexuals in Christian community. It quickly became evident, however, that, if taken on board, these ideas would demand radical change, not moderate reform. After a brief period of openness and experimentation, many of the mainline churches made a hasty retreat and retrenched behind their vestments.

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2013-12-28 03:38 pm

Are there degrees of 'outness'?

In the history of lesbian and gay politics, historians put a lot of stock in whether or not the people we study were "out." But what exactly does"out" mean? This past week I interviewed Robert W. Wood, author of 1960 bookChrist and the Homosexual. Wood is a retired United Church of Christ (formerly Congregationalist Church) minister who knew since high school that he was gay. As a teenager he poured through Biblical scripture looking for guidance regarding his sexuality and found none.
Cover of the 1960 book Christ and the Homosexual
A year into university Wood was called up for military service. He suffered a gun shot wound in the mountains of Italy that left him with a collapsed lung. When he was finally released from hospital 666 days later (not making that up), he took his GI Bill benefits and enrolled in the Oberlin Seminary where he studied for a life in service of God. By the time he graduated, he was no better informed about the Christian view of homosexuality and decided to fill the gap himself. Once established in his own church in the commuter suburb of Spring Valley, New York, he crafted a book-length argument for a Christian approach to homosexuality, one that saw homosexuals as equal to heterosexuals, that maintained God approved of homosexuals, and that argued pastors had a moral and ethical obligation to become better informed about homosexuality so that they could provide good counsel to their homosexual parishioners. He also insisted on the right of same-sex couples to marry, which is why I came to know him and his work. Not only did Wood use his real name (something Edward Sagarin, author of the 1951 book The Homosexual in America chose not to do) and put his image on the book sleeve, he gave a copy to each of his own church's board members. Wood does not identify himself as a homosexual in the book, but simply writing such a book automatically raised suspicions. Remarkably, if an eye was batted in Spring Valley, it was done in private. Wood's position as pastor was never challenged, and he went on to serve at two other churches before retiring in 1986.

Two years after the book came out, Wood met, fell in love with, and married rodeo cowboy and artist Hugh Coulter. They bought and wore matching gold bands on their left ring finger but maintained separate residences. When congregants invited Wood out socially, Hugh usually went along. Some grasped the nature of their relationship, others did not.

Was Wood "out" or not? In an interview I conducted with him last week he says he "came out" in 1957 when he published a short article called "Spiritual Exercises" in a gay men's physique magazine. He used his real name and it was printed with a clear head shot, the same one he later used for his book. In an earlier interview with Stephen Law, Wood described an unambiguous public declaration of his sexuality more typical of what Americans consider "coming out." When Hugh died in 1986 a sympathetic parishioner said, "I am so sorry your friend has died."

"He wasn't my friend,"Wood declared, "he was my partner." It was the first time he confronted the ambiguity that had allowed him and Hugh to lead the life they did while still actively and openly advocating for gay rights.

Being "out" enabled people to publicly fight against oppression while simultaneously providing a visible role model for lesbians and gays who believed they were abnormal, deviant, and sinners. For that reason, being out had a measurable historical impact. Wood's book is case in point. He received hundreds of letters from lesbians and gays who expressed relief at having a positive view of themselves put forward, but who were still too afraid to sign their own names at the bottom of the page.

Did Wood come out in 1957 or 1986? Or is "outness" too blunt an instrument for understanding the history of queer resistance politics? Perhaps Wood's story suggests that we need a different metric for measuring "outness" in the 50s and 60s than we do for the 70s and after. What do you think?

(Special thanks to Alan Miller of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives for putting me on to Wood's work)

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2013-12-16 08:37 pm

Research's Circuitous Route


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This past weekend Elise flew to Boston on a last-minute research trip.  Unfortunately in the rush to get to the archives she left her computer at the airport security check point. This Monday she sends a pictogram to explain research's circuitous route.

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2013-12-09 12:33 pm

"...he has no choice but to become an outlaw."

"When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in he has no choice but to become an outlaw." - Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom (1995)

The eyes, ears, and hearts of the world are turned toward South Africa this week as we bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, a man who led the largely peaceful transition of a nation ruled by the violent hand of a racist state to a nation governed by the African National Congress. For those of us who came of age after his 1990 release from prison, Mandela is a soft-spoken, fatherly figure of peace and forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. What some of us did not know until now is that, following the 1960 Sharpville Massacre, he and many other ANC members became convinced of the necessity of armed resistance. Mandela himself helped to establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation). You can watch a 1961 interview on the subject here.

Nelson Mandela: speaking in 1961
Nelson Mandela addresses the All in Africa Conference in Pietermaritzburg, 1961. Photo from Christian Aid archive (courtesy of International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa)

"When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in," said Mandela, "he has no choice but to become an outlaw." This statement resonates for lesbians, gays and other queers, too. In too many places around the globe – Russia being only the most recent – to be queer is to be made outlaw.

100% Lesbian
Image by Lauren Barkume September 25, 2010.

Mandela understood that freedom is more than a ‘race’ issue. It was also an economic issue, a woman’s issue, and an issue for lesbians and gays. Under his leadership, South Africa’s 1996 constitution was the first in the world to include protection for lesbians and gays.


Credit for Mandela’s forward thinking on lesbian and gay rights has been given to Cecil Williams, ANC member and Mandel’s driver during the years before his last arrest. Williams was gay, and the story of their relationship is told in a little known documentary The Man Who Drove With Mandela. Read more about this at the GLBT news network.


Portrait of Cecil Williams, by Aran Shetterly

To find out more about Mandela’s role in the advancement of lesbian and gay rights, I share with you some posts from South Africans who have penned memorial pieces that acknowledge his work on this front:

THANK YOU NELSON MANDELA feature from mambagirl.com

Nelson Mandela: Statesman of LGBT Equality by Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson

A controversial reprint of an article from earlier in the year, Comment: South Africa is not a ‘Rainbow Nation’ if you’re gay via pinknews.co.uk

Did you know that Mandela played such a key role in raising the profile of lesbian and gay rights at home and around the globe? Why is this getting so little media attention?

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2013-12-02 01:01 pm

Reaching Out

A great deal of the research for this project has come from lesbian and gay archives. Scattered across the United States and Canada, they are treasure troves for historians of sexuality. Too few, however, know about their existence, but those who do have a deep passion for preserving the past. One of my best “finds” at ONE National Lesbian and Gay Archives in Los Angeles illustrates this perfectly.

When I arrived there in the early summer of 2012, archivist Michael Oliveira was excited to show me their most recent acquisition: photographs of a male couple who had a wedding ceremony in a North Philly apartment sometime in the 1950s. For five decades, the photos sat in the Mandarang family collection. Jackie Mandarang never knew why because she recognized not a soul. One day she asked her father about them.

Your mother used to work in a photomat, he explained. Whenever film came in that the photomat owner deemed inappropriate, he would confiscate it on moral grounds. He did not mind, however, if the staff helped themselves to the prints.

Jackie’s mother tucked the wedding snaps away in her purse and hoped that one day the gentlemen would come in to the shop and she could surreptitiously pass the photos over. They never did, and the pictures ended up among the Mandarang family photos.

In a letter to the archives Jackie explains that she put the photos up for auction on eBay. The successful bidder insisted that she make a copy of the set and send it to ONE for preservation and public use. I am glad he thought to do that, but it does make me wonder how much historical material is in the hands of private collectors, out of reach of the research community. When the value in an object is in its scarcity, can we ever hope that copies will be made available so that we can know our own past?

I got in touch with The Philadelphia Gay News in the hope that, with their help, the photos could be reunited with their rightful owners. They ran a story about the confiscated photos in February 2013, but no one has come forward to claim them. What made the couple decide to get married? Who was it that married them, and how did their friends feel about the ceremony? We will never know.

I had hoped that the article might also prompt people who have stories of their own about same-sex weddings in the '50s, '60s and '70s to get in touch with me, but that didn’t happen either. Even in the age of the Internet, finding each other is a challenging task.

It is a pleasure to share my research findings with a broad audience but the truth is that my underlying hope is that the blog reaches people who participated in or witnessed same-sex weddings, or who opposed them, or who officiated them, or who had any other connection to the subject. If that’s you, please get in touch with me. It that’s not you, please like, share and re-post as far and wide as possible. Don’t let our history be a scarce resource. You can email me at echenier@gmail.com.


[Image Description: two reasonably young men in suits stand at a wedding cake, cutting it together]


[Image Description: 5 men stand together in V: at the center, an officiant holding a large book. On both sides of him, the grooms and their best men. A six th man in a suit, also holding a book, is in the background on the right].


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2013-11-26 08:39 am
Entry tags:

Weird or Wonderful?

This past week I met with Vancouver's queer seniors writing collective Quirk-e to talk about a draft of an article I recently completed with the title: “Freak Wedding! Marriage as Postwar Lesbian Pleasure Practice.” The article was inspired by the headline of a 1957 tabloid story about a butch and fem lesbian wedding in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The question I ask in the article is simple enough: how can we make sense of butch and fem lesbians' highly conventional marriage practices when everything else about them was highly unconventional? There are extraordinary parallels between working-class butch and fem lesbian bar culture and the culture of early twentieth century circus freaks, so I use the critical studies understanding of late 19th and early 20th century circus "freaks" to deepen our understanding of butch and fem culture in the 1950s and 1960s.

Margot Dunn, a Quirk-e collective member, made a brilliant comment during our discussion. "There is nothing freakier than a wedding ceremony," she said. People dress completely out of the ordinary, they say things that are out of the ordinary, and the day is spent in a very unordinary way.

Everyone agreed, myself included. Margot could see something so obviously freaky, but made so ordinary by its status in our culture as “normal,” that no one else could see.

The wonderful thing about the word "freaky" is that it can mean different things. Something can be freakishly weird or freakishly wonderful. The challenge in writing Outlaws to In-Laws is to make the story of same-sex marriage in the 1950s, '60s and '70s as interesting to people who see marriage (gay, straight, or otherwise) as freakishly weird as we might expect it to be for those who see it as wonderful.

I am one of many who see same-sex marriage as weird and wonderful. Since the late 1800s marriage in Western culture has increasingly come to be a public celebration of love, intimacy, and commitment between two people. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, mainstream American society insisted lesbians and gays were incapable of authentic love, intimacy, or commitment. That same-sex couples married each other anyhow makes these weddings freakishly wonderful. On the other hand, as a cultural institution marriage typically reinforces gender stereotypes. When Daisy de Jesus performed wedding ceremonies in New York’s Broadway Central bar in the late '60s, she asked: "Do you take so-and-so to be your butch, to love and protect you? Do you take so-and-so to be your fem, to love you and to be faithful?" Daisy would come to reject this kind of gender differentiation as she became more and more involved in the women's liberation movement in the early 1970s.

What guides my exploration of this topic is the largely forgotten gay liberationist argument that love outside the bounds of society's prescriptive norms is a radical action. To truly embrace other human beings as having a value, a dignity, and a humanity equal to you and everyone else, they claimed, is the most direct path to uprooting of social and political inequality.

People do not always marry for love, and it is certainly not the only way to express love, but the couples I am writing about loved radically. At the time, most Americans thought such love to be so freakishly weird it was perverted; in this context how can it be anything other than freakishly wonderful?

What do you think?

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2013-11-18 11:55 pm

Father Robert Clement's Holy Union

Last week I wrote about Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church. At the same time Perry was building his church in Los Angeles, Father Robert Clement, an ordained priest of the Old Catholic Church of America, was building his congregation in New York City. Also like Perry, Clement was an out and proud gay man. He famously participated in the June 1970 Stonewall march wearing his Catholic collar and carrying a sign that said “Gay People This Is Your Church.” He meant his Church of the Beloved Disciple, which held regular services at the 9th Avenue and 28th Street Episcopalian Church of the Holy Apostles.

Also like Perry, one of the most popular services Clement provided was to bless the unions of same-sex couples. In an interview on the LGBT Religious Archives Network he explains that he and his partner coined the term “Holy Union” to describe this particular rite. He also claims that he was the first to publicly perform Holy Unions, a claim that Troy Perry disputes. Perhaps Outlaws to In-Laws will set the record straight. I’m working on it.

Undisputed is the fact that when, in 1970, Clement wanted to marry his partner John Noble, he asked Troy to officiate. Through his work as a priest serving the lesbian and gay community, Clement had a very high public profile. It is hard to imagine anyone other than Perry filling this role.

The photo, taken at the Robert and John’s wedding reception, appears on the LGBT Religious Archives Network page featuring Clement’s full story. Clement and Noble’s beaming smiles suggest that it was a happy day indeed.

[Image Description: Father Robert Clement and John Noble standing together behind their wedding cake.]


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2013-11-11 12:16 pm

Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Church

In the summer of 2011 I rode my motorcycle around the U.S. in search of pre-1980 evidence of same-sex marriage for my book Outlaws to In-Laws. I made stops at queer and lesbian and gay archives in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Elise Chenier and Troy Perry
Caption: Me and Troy


While in L.A. I met up with Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), which today boasts 222 member congregations in 37 countries. The MCC was founded in 1968. Perry ran an ad in a local gay newspaper inviting people to attend a Christian service he was to conduct himself. With no money to put toward the effort, he held the service in his living room. Twelve people turned up. Nine were friends he cajoled into coming. Only three came as a result of the ad.

Perry’s fiery sermons services, however, quickly attracted large crowds of queers thirsty for spiritual sustenance and community. One of the most popular services he provided was to bless couples’ unions.

Unlike the story of Daisy de Jesus, which I wrote about last week, the history of Troy Perry and the MCC Church is well documented in archives, books and on film. Interviews, however, often bring out nuances and details left off the official record. I was keen to meet Perry and hear what he had to say on the subject. We met up in June of 2011 and spent close to three hours talking about the MCC and gay marriage.

Here is a 38-second clip from our interview. Perry explains his feelings about marriage and describes an early, creative solution to the exclusion of lesbian and gays from formal marriage rites. The clip gives us a sense of Perry's intoxicating voice and his passion for life and love. It's easy to see why so many are drawn to him.



Do you know of similar “creative solutions”? Did you ever marry or attend a wedding ceremony at the MCC in its first decade?

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2013-11-04 12:57 pm

Unsung Heroes

Archivists are the unsung heroes of the historical profession. They are made all the more special by the fact that in the lesbian and gay archives sector most are unpaid, or underpaid. Theirs is a true labor of love.

Doing research in volunteer-run archives means that services can be patchy. You rely on the goodwill and good humor of others, and luck and happenstance can have as much to do with your research results as a good method and thorough approach.

When I first began contemplating same-sex marriage as a research topic, I contacted the Lesbian Herstory Archives. As luck would have it, the volunteer archivist on duty that day was worked particularly hard to provide detailed answers to researcher's questions. When I asked if the Archives had any material on lesbian weddings before 1980, she found a variety of newspaper clippings and suggested other parts of their collection where I might look. She also chatted up a few of the long-time Archives volunteers and workers, women whose participation in the local lesbian scene went back to the 1960s and '70s New York community. One of them suggested I contact Daisy de Jesus.

A search of the online phone directory got me nowhere. Four years later, I tried again. Her name appeared in a news story about a wedding expo for same-sex couples. The journalist identified where she and her partner lived and I was able to use that information to track her down. In 2012 we sat down together for an interview in her office on Broadway.

In the late 1960s, Daisy was known in the local lesbian bar scene as the woman who conducted marriage ceremonies. It started simply enough. One day two of Daisy's friends told her that they wished they could get married. “I’ll marry you!” Daisy blurted out. And so she did.

The Broadway Central bar where she hung out was terrifically noisy, so she always conducted ceremonies in the hotel lobby.

“But you had to be quick,” she said. “The bouncers would come and kick you back into the bar.”

Daisy married couples for four years. She stopped when she began dating a woman who was possessive of her and resented her constant interaction with other women. Not long after she became involved in Salsa Soul Sisters, a feminist group of women of Latina and African American heritage interested in alternatives to the bar, to butch-fem practices, and to relationship conventions such as marriage.

Daisy’s story reveals how same-sex couples found ways to marry each other at a time when homosexuals were seen as deviant, as immature, and as incapable of forming meaningful, lasting relationships. I would never have been able to document it and share it with you now were it not for the commitment of archivists. That young archivist is named Lisa Cohen, and it is to her we owe this story.

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2013-10-28 06:39 am

Crime Doesn't Pay

I have always loved giving public talks. I love the challenge of writing a compelling narrative, and I love the rush of energy I get from an attentive audience who is usually pleased, sometimes even thrilled, to learn something new about queer history.

Occasionally someone approaches me after a presentation with a story to share. Just such a thing happened this past week. I participated in a student-organized panel for Queer History Month and shared stories about researching same-sex marriage in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Afterwards Ron Dutton, a local archivist of the gay past, approached me.

“I didn’t know you were working on marriage,” he said. “Have you seen the 1957 story that ran in TAB magazine about a gay male wedding that got busted by the police?”

“No,” I said, all ears. “Tell me more.”

“I can’t remember the details, but I have a copy of it in my collection.”

Today I went to Ron’s home, part of which is converted into a massive archive that holds over one million items. Here is the one he shared with me:


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2013-10-21 01:02 pm

FREAK WEDDING! BRIDEGROOM IS A GIRL


[click for larger]


The headline says it all. In the 1950s, lesbians were “freaks.” This was especially true of butch women who adopted a masculine working-class style. Their style alone communicated volumes: I will not conform to society’s rules; I will not be a “proper” woman; I am a sexually desiring being, and my desire is directed toward women, especially feminine women.


When I first uncovered this image, I was stunned. It is rare to see photographs from this period. Few working-class women had cameras, few could afford to take photos, and most moved so often that photos tended to get lost, misplaced, or thrown out.

But even more than that, I was surprised to learn that these women, whom historians have always characterized as rebels, as heterosexual refuseniks, as the political predecessors to the lesbian and feminist liberationists who denounced marriage and romance as major sources of women’s oppression, got married. Not only that, they did so in the most conventional of ways. As the image of Ivy and Gerry shows, they wore conventional wedding attire. My research is showing that this was only the beginning. Women arranged for an officiant – sometimes a friend, and sometimes a Christian minister sympathetic to same-sex lovers – and exchanged heartfelt vows. Afterwards, many couples celebrated with a multi-tier wedding cake. There was no marriage license, of course, but what did that matter?

How does lesbian marriage fit with the image historians have constructed of butch and fem culture as a rebel culture? Was marriage in this case an act of resistance against heterosexual norms or was it, as some queer critics of today’s marriage equality movement argue, conformist and conservative?

I have been exploring this question in archives and interviews with people who married in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and found that men engaged in the same practice. I have learned that then, as now, “homosexual marriage” was a topic of heated debate among gays and lesbians. Some wondered why anyone would want to give up the freedom from life-long monogamy that lesbians and gays enjoyed. Others thought that such practices made homosexuals look ridiculous and undermined any hope of winning civil rights.

From Outlaws to In-Laws explores the history of same-sex marriage in the United States from the 1950s up to the present-day marriage equality movement. Some have argued that weddings in the 1960s and 1970s were acts of resistance and acts of conformity, but after two years of reflecting on my research findings, I suggest that “resistance” as a category of analysis is not particularly useful in understanding marriage as a cultural practice among lesbians and gays. Without abandoning an understanding of marriage as a political institution, in From Outlaws to In-Laws I want to explore the way love, pleasure, desire and affection are given expression, and how these feelings and their public expression contribute to forming and building community.

If you have a story to share about same-sex marriage before 1980, get in touch with me. I am still collecting histories and artifacts for this project. And if you have a question or comment, I hope you’ll share it below. Thanks for reading, and please share this blog with your friends.

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