'Gay Pride' events celebrate a year of advancement for gay rights

Gay rights activists and supporters celebrated this weekend with “Gay Pride” parades and other events around the country. They’re also looking to advance same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues.

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    Kayla Yopp and Akane Kagawa dressed up to attend the Pride Festival on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Houston.
    Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle/AP
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“Gay Pride” marches in the United States date back to 1970 with a handful of events in New York and California. Those had come a year after the “Stonewall riots” in Greenwich Village protesting police raids on gay bars, part of what was seen as intolerance and general harassment of homosexuals.

Since then, advances in gay rights – legally, politically, and socially – have brought with them annual events around the country, hundreds of them big and small, more celebration than protest.

Such was the case over the weekend in large American cities and small towns. Participants included police officers and active duty military personnel, public school teachers and members of the clergy, elected officials both Republican and Democrat. They were members of the LGBT community who once might have stayed in the closet as well as straight people who support gay rights.

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In Cleveland, an estimated 32,000 people took part Saturday, a couple thousand more than last year, and the number of units in the parade had increased from 140 in 2013 to 171 this year.

In Minneapolis’s “Pride Parade” Sunday, one of grand marshals was Police Chief Janee Harteau, the city’s first female police chief and first chief to be openly gay.

"I am not the 'gay cop,' but a cop who happens to be gay," St. Paul police officer Darin McDonald told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Sunday’s parade “is a great opportunity for youth of today to see positive role models in every profession, and they can achieve their dreams and become whoever they want to be."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker was part of the 35th Annual Pride Houston Parade Saturday, and more than a hundred organizations and businesses also participated, reports ABC affiliate KTRK.

In Chicago, as many as 1 million people were expected to pack the streets of the city's North Side for the first gay pride parade since Illinois legalized gay marriage last month.

Meanwhile, companies are finding that the benefits of sponsorship outweigh the risks of staying away, giving them a chance to make a statement in support of diversity and use it to help recruit and retain top talent who want to work for a business that supports LGBT rights, the Associated Press reports.

"We understand there are people who might have different points of view on that," said spokesman Michael Palese at Chrysler, which has been a sponsor of the Motor City Pride Festival and Parade in Detroit, Michigan, for years and became a primary backer this spring. "We respect their point of view as long as they respect ours.”

The weekend events come one year after the US Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that barred same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples.

Since that decision, gay and lesbian couples have filed more than 80 lawsuits citing the decision as authority to invalidate same-sex marriage bans across the country.

The results have been swift and one-sided, reports Monitor legal affairs correspondent Warren Richey: Within the past year, state statutes and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have been struck down as unconstitutional in 13 states.

The highest courts in New Jersey and New Mexico and a state judge in Arkansas invalidated bans in those states. Federal judges struck down similar bans in 10 other states – Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Indiana. In four other cases – Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana – federal judges ordered states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Like many Americans, President Obama has “evolved” – his term – in his view of same-sex marriage.

His administration was behind the US military’s turning away from the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring service members from being openly gay, and it has moved to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples who work for federal agencies.

The next step, say gay rights activists, is for Congress to allow Social Security and veterans’ benefits to be extended to gay couples.

“Congress should move swiftly to pass curative legislation for our veterans and seniors, even as we look to the federal courts and the Supreme Court to secure the freedom to marry and equal protection nationwide,” says Evan Wolfson, president of the group Freedom to Marry. “America is ready for the freedom to marry, and every day of denial is a day of hardship, injustice, and indignity. It’s time to end marriage discrimination once and for all.”

It was a point emphasized by some speakers at this weekend’s “Gay Pride” events.

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