In 1961, Frank Kameny, the pioneering gay-rights activist who was fired from his government job because of his homosexuality, asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The court ignored him and his appeal was forgotten—until now.
Frank’s Supreme Court petition has resurfaced and is now in print via Amazon Kindle, courtesy of Charles Francis and the Kameny Papers project. It’s short; read it. At the very least, buy it (proceeds go to benefit Frank). It is a staggering document, not just of historical value but still, 50 years later, a summa of what the gay civil-rights movement is (or should be) about.
Later in the 1960s, with the emergence of the countercultural left and the counter-countercultural response from the religious right, gay rights became a left-wing movement. (As one activist put it in the 1970s: “Never forget, what this movement is about is fucking.”) Frank, from the start, set his sights much, much higher, drawing a straight line from the Declaration of Independence and the Founders to gay individuals’ right to be left alone and choose their own destiny. The natural home for Kameny’s rhetoric and argumentation is the libertarian right, not the left. The voices he channels are those of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson:
In World War II, petitioner did not hesitate to fight the Germans, with bullets, in order to help preserve his rights and freedoms and liberties, and those of others. In 1960, it is ironically necessary that he fight the Americans, with words, in order to preserve, against a tyrannical government, some of those same rights, freedoms and liberties, for himself and others.
In a more rational country, gay equality would have been a conservative cause.
When I say the document is staggering, I’m thinking of passages like this:
Petitioner asserts, flatly, unequivocally, and absolutely uncompromisingly, that homosexuality, whether by mere inclination or by overt act, is not only not immoral, but that for those choosing voluntarily to engage in homosexual acts, such acts are moral in a real and positive sense, and are good, right, and desirable, socially and personally.
Imagine the vision and courage it took to say that…to the U.S. Supreme Court!…in 1961! He’s saying that being gay shouldn’t just be tolerated. It shouldn’t even be merely accepted. It should be admired!
Half a century later, when 43 percent of Americans still tell Gallup that homosexuality is morally wrong, and when many gays are still reflexively hostile to the classical liberal tradition, the country is still struggling to catch up with Frank; but now, at least, we can all recognize this amazing man for the prophet he was. See for yourself.