Demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court Building during the court's hearing of United State v. Windsor, 2013

A Growing Debate over Dignity

Seeking Legal Protections in Communities and the Courts, 1990s-today

In 1986’s Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBT people did not have the same constitutional protections as heterosexuals.

Undaunted, growing numbers of people chose to fight openly for their rights. Seeking recognition and protection for their relationships—and dignity for themselves and their families—they continued to bring cases before the Supreme Court, often at great personal risk and financial expense. Public debate intensified. Some Americans feared gay rights would weaken legal protections for “traditional” families. The law, they said, should not be used to force social change. 

“Sometimes losing a case, and losing it so stunningly, can galvanize political action to take another run at the problem.”

—Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Columbia Law School

“Our message is loud and clear. Trans and gender variant people are entitled to no more and no less than the same rights as everyone else.”

—Navi Pillay, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, in her address to the 5th Annual European Transgender Council in Budapest, 2014