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How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America

Nathaniel Frank

ISBN 9780674977563

Publication date: 04/24/2017

The right of same-sex couples to marry provoked decades of intense conflict before it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. Yet some of the most divisive contests shaping the quest for marriage equality occurred not on the culture-war front lines but within the ranks of LGBTQ advocates. Nathaniel Frank tells the dramatic story of how an idea that once seemed unfathomable—and for many gays and lesbians undesirable—became a legal and moral right in just half a century.

Awakening begins in the 1950s, when millions of gays and lesbians were afraid to come out, let alone fight for equality. Across the social upheavals of the next two decades, a gay rights movement emerged with the rising awareness of the equal dignity of same-sex love. A cadre of LGBTQ lawyers soon began to focus on legal recognition for same-sex couples, if not yet on marriage itself. It was only after being pushed by a small set of committed lawyers and grassroots activists that established movement groups created a successful strategy to win marriage in the courts.

Marriage equality proponents then had to win over members of their own LGBTQ community who declined to make marriage a priority, while seeking to rein in others who charged ahead heedless of their carefully laid plans. All the while, they had to fight against virulent antigay opponents and capture the American center by spreading the simple message that love is love, ultimately propelling the LGBTQ community—and America—immeasurably closer to justice.


  • A truly impressive, nuanced, fair account…It relays the lung-filling highs and stomach-churning lows of the long trek toward gay dignity. Better still, it brings into focus the small band of disparate individuals who somehow brought what was unimaginable into reality. Many people think marriage was won overnight. This book proves it wasn’t. But its chief merit is that it explains for straight people and the younger gay and lesbian generations just how deeply divisive this issue was in the gay world for so long…It’s easy, in the wake of victory, to forget that story—but Frank covers its nuances better than anything else I’ve read. And he gives everyone their due…[An] indispensable account.

    —Andrew Sullivan, New York


  • 2018, Winner of the PROSE Awards


  • Nathaniel Frank is Director of the What We Know Project at Columbia Law School.

Book Details

  • Belknap Press