Sunday, May 25, 2014

Frank Kameny v. Charles Socarides: 1974 PBS Gay Marriage Debate

Here's an important piece of homo history I wasn't aware of until this week when I read my friend Rick Rosendall's blog post for the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC.

(Homosexual hero Frank Kameny. Credit: WGBH-TV.)

On May 2, 1974, a one-hour debate organized as a mock trial and aired on a show called "The Advocates, The PBS Debate of the Week", and the subject was "Should Marriage Between Homosexuals Be Permitted?" and the event was held on the University of California at Irvine campus. Leading the charge for the gays was longtime gay pioneer Frank Kameny who was masterful in his presentation and how he framed his arguments.

I was shocked to learn the early 1970s date of the debate in part because of what gay marriage advocate Evan Wolfson says on his group's web site:

Prior to founding Freedom to Marry in 2003, Wolfson launched the marriage movement as co-counsel in the landmark Hawaii marriage case, Baehr v. Miike. 

Putting aside his enormous ego and his claim that he alone launched this movement, but not overlooking Woflson's important role in the battle for gay and lesbian marriages, this 1974 debate is a key piece of evidence that the fight was underway before he worked on the Hawaii case. That case went to trial in 1996, more than two decades after the PBS mock trial took place.

Joining Kameny were out lesbian Elaine Noble who was a professor at Emerson College at the time, a year before she was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Dr. Richard Green, a psychiatrist from UCLA, and quite the bear but I don't what his sexual orientation is.

The opposing side was led by Florida civil rights attorney Tobias Simon, who was joined by Robin Smith at Occidental College, and  Dr. Charles Socarides, listed as an Associate Clinical Professor at Albert Einstein Medical School.

Socarides was the father two blights upon the LGBT community, the first being the now-discredited bogus "conversion therapy" that held a person with same-sex attractions could be changed to desire the opposite sex, and the second was his son Richard Socarides, a Democratic political strategist who holds the dubious distinction of having written talking points for President Bill Clinton deflecting LGBT advocates' anger over the signing of the Defense of Marriage Act when he was the White House gay liaison.

Unfortunately, WGBH-TV in Boston has shared the video from 1974 on their web site but not made it embeddable. Click here to watch it, please.

These words of Kameny's are from the transcript and serve as an excellent reminder of some of what made him a giant of the gay community:
Our society guarantees first class citizenship to all of its citizens, the right of the pursuit of happiness to all of its citizens, and the right to be different and to be unpopular without disadvantage to all of its citizens. Our society does not always respect those rights in practice. 

Exercise by homosexual couples of the right to marry detracts not one iota from the rights of heterosexual couples to marry. Homosexual marriages interfere with no one individually, and such marriages impair or interfere with no societal interest. In fact, they further some societal interest. They provide a myriad of special privileges given to legally married people. 

Most important, for many persons a legal marriage is psychologically supportive. The relationship is stabilized by it. For society to accuse us, as it does, of unstable, short-term relationships and then to deny us a powerful means of stabilization is to make their accusation self-fulfilling in a peculiarly vicious way. To extend the definition of the family to include gay couples in no way endangers or diminishes the institution of the family. 

Quite to the contrary, it strengthens it. Our society belongs to all of its members and segments. It is our society as homosexuals quite as much as yours as heterosexuals. If heterosexuals wishing it have the right to the benefits of marriage, then homosexuals wis have the right to the benefits of marriage. That equality is what America is all about. It is as simple as that. 


Unknown said...

Kameny would defend equality for gays in every area, including marriage, and he celebrated every victory. In 1974 he was probably the best-known gay advocate among a pool that was very limited in number. He certainly was one of the most articulate and experienced, so it is no surprise that he would appear on the program. However, he was strategic in his efforts and in directing his energy. At no time during his long career was he a pro-active advocate or organizer on the issue of marriage.

While others had advocated on marriage before Wolfson, such as Baker and McConnell’s 1974 lawsuit, and others attempted to marry even earlier, those were flashes in the pan that quickly died out and had no long-term impact.

In contrast, Wolfson has made marriage the central issue of his activism from his days in law school. Those efforts have been sustained and have achieved success. His claim to having launched the marriage movement is valid.

Bill Wilson said...

Wow what a great find. Frank Kameny was so far ahead of his time a real pioneer. Just one small quibble as the originator of the phrase Gay is good, I think he won't mind the use of the term gay instead of homosexual, I know he very much objected to the use of the word Queer.

Unknown said...

This message is from Michael Bedwell, longtime advocate:

Glad you found this treasure, too. Couldn't post a comment, for some reason, to your article about it, but here 'tis should you wish to share any of it with your readers. Thanks.

SOME MORE BACKGROUND. First to the issue of when the legal fight for marriage equality began. As the moderator notes, there were court cases going on when the “debate” was broadcast in May 1974. As best as I’ve been able to determine, the first two were in 1970. A., in Los Angeles on behalf of Neva Heckman and Judith Bellew whom Rev. Troy Perry had “married” in 1969 (one of several such ceremonies he had begun doing). The premise was that they had been together two years, and, thus, fit the California definition of “common law marriage” which apparently did not specify gender, but the lawsuit was rejected by the court. [Heckman apparently later identified as transgender.] And, B., the efforts of Jack Baker and Michael McConnell in Minnesota, which more are aware of, to first get a license in 1970 (which failed), and, then, to have their 1971 marriage (via a license deceptively obtained using the androgynous name Baker had legally taken, “Pat Lynn McConnell”) recognized. Both state and federal courts ruled against them, yet today—despite earned praise for their efforts—they still, rather sadly, insist that they have always been legally married because “no court has ever ordered [its] annulment”—as if courts would something they don’t recognize EXISTING in the first place.

Unknown said...

More from Michael Bedwell:

RE THE “DEBATE”: While Socarides and Frank obviously crossed verbal swords, it’s important to understand how much they truly loathed each other behind these scenes. The two had first sparred seven years before when the Pentagon called him as an “expert witness” against a gay man for whom Frank and Barbara Gittings were trying to get a security clearance. “We cross-examined him for some three hours, in dumbfounded horror at what he was saying. The Pentagon removed him from their list of expert witnesses right after that hearing and so informed us formally." And Socarides came to the filming that night still outraged about the tectonic shift that had happened just the month before but only briefly touched upon in the program.

The previous December, after years of effort that included an explosive zap of the 1971 national convention of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) during which Frank famously commandeered the microphone and denounced the psychiatrists sitting before him as the enemy, he, Gittings, Jack Nichols, and others including straight allies had convinced the APA Board of Trustees to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Socarides went ballistic, demanding that the board let the entire APA membership vote. At 10:20 a.m., that April 7th, in the board room of the APA’s Washington DC headquarters, Frank and National Gay Task Force executive director Bruce Voeller, bathed in the bright light of network TV cameras, heard the results of the referendum in which 10,555 psychiatrists took part. “YES” (supporting the change): 4,854. “NO”: 3,810. “ABSTAIN”: 367. By 58% THE first great victory of the Movement outside of the courts was ratified, and it remains vitally important today. Voeller wrote shortly afterward: “…the REAL struggle is for recognition that gays love and care for each other. If you can’t stand or understand affection and caring you’re a homophobe.” Though Socarides lost the vote and his son, Richard, turned out to be gay—and the video reveals what a lunatic he was—he went to his grave still unable to stand or understand; and the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) that he cofounded in 1992 still exists, and teaches that being gay is a choice that can be changed. Frank’s four words in response to learning of Socarides’ death in 2005: "Dreadful man. Good riddance."

Unknown said...

And the last bit of commentary from Michael Bedwell:

Given Tobias Simon says during the program that “Toleration, not encouragement, is society's maximum obligation to the homosexual,” one was surprised to learn that he was a highly respected defense attorney for Martin Luther King, Jr., and other black civil rights activists in the 1960s, and crusaded against the death penalty and loyalty oaths. A Pro Bono Service Award was created in his name in Florida which, ironically, at least one recipient won for fighting for gay and lesbian rights. I was unable to learn whether Tobias evolved during the eight years he lived after the program, just as I was his anti equality “witness” Robin Smith who, today, is a professor emeritus at Texas A&M. Nor could I find what the result was of asking viewers to “vote" after the show.

BUT HERE’S TO FRANK who would have turned 89 last Thursday! He may not have lived to see our growing victories for marriage equality for those who want it but this video proves they are among the many things he helped make happen. And, he, TOO, deserves his own stamp and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Bert Whitaker said...

I also was surprised to hear Tobias Simon's position on this. He was an adjunct professor at Florida State's law school one semester, and I took a course from him working on improving conditions for prisoners in Florida. I thought he was one of the most progressive people I have ever met. He died in 1982. I cannot imagine his views would have remained static.

Unknown said...

Hi Bert,

I agree with you. After reading up on Tobias Simon and learning he supported Martin Luther King Jr and was against the death penalty, I believe his thinking on gays and gay marriage would have seriously evolved.