How It Happened: 10 Years Of Gay Marriage

On May 17 10 years ago, Massachusetts issued the first fully legal same-sex marriage license in the United States. Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish were the recipients of that license. The growing acceptance of gay marriage in the U.S. is due in part to gay advertising and public support of gay-friendly workplace policies. Marketing expert David Paisley explains how that change happened to guest host Tess Vigeland.

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TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West in for Arun Rath.

Ten years ago today, gay marriage became a reality in Massachusetts.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

VIGELAND: Just after midnight, thousands celebrated what was once just a dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND MUSIC)

VIGELAND: Since then, 16 more states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage and more than 70,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot. That's according to the Pew Research Center.

That's our cover story today: A decade of gay marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND MUSIC)

VIGELAND: In November of 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health, that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Among those waiting intently for the decision was a lesbian couple in Malden.

MARCIA KADISH: Hi, this Marcia Kadish.

TANYA MCCLOSKEY: And this is Tanya McCloskey.

VIGELAND: Tanya McCloskey couldn't believe her ears when she heard the news.

MCCLOSKEY: Oh, my God. Totally excited, never thought that we would ever see this in our lifetime. We've always felt like we were married but to actually be legal, that we could actually get married. it was just really incredible.

VIGELAND: But the court gave the state legislature six months to respond, to enact new laws that could potentially change the ruling. So McCloskey and Kadish went about their lives. They didn't plan a wedding. In fact, neither even proposed. They'd been together for 18 years and weren't focused on a piece of paper somehow legitimizing their relationship. That's not to say they didn't want one.

Six months later, after several rounds of failed political effort, same-sex marriage came to Massachusetts. McCloskey and Kadish along with many, many others went to the courthouse at midnight May 17th.

KADISH: We were getting roses and love, and everybody was still there screaming kiss, kiss, kiss and clapping.

MCCLOSKEY: Yeah, everybody that came out.

(LAUGHTER)

KADISH: It was just fabulous.

VIGELAND: They didn't leave until two in the morning. Four hours later...

MCCLOSKEY: Remember how I woke you up?

KADISH: You said: Come on, honey. Let's make history.

(LAUGHTER)

KADISH: And we did.

MCCLOSKEY: No.

KADISH: We didn't no we were going to do that. We went to the courthouse and nobody was there. It was totally abandoned. It was just like...

MCCLOSKEY: Everybody slept in - I don't know. Like, were we at the right place? We didn't know. It was like, oh, well.

KADISH: Tanya went to get breakfast sandwiches. And by the time she came back with the sandwiches, the line started to form.

MCCLOSKEY: Yeah.

KADISH: But we were the first.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCLOSKEY: There was a TV crew. There were people there. It was like, oh, my God.

KADISH: And the crews said - asked if they could film us. We said sure. Why not?

MCCLOSKEY: Absolutely.

KADISH: We went into the courthouse. We got our waiver and then we got in the car and went to Cambridge City Hall. Yeah, we were the first and we were just so excited.

(LAUGHTER)

KADISH: And I just planted a big kiss on my honey.

MCCLOSKEY: Oh, my God. She lip-locked me right...

(LAUGHTER)

KADISH: I had totally forgotten that the cameras were on. And then later, when we looked on our 57-inch screen, and I saw me lip-locking Tanya, I wanted to die.

MCCLOSKEY: Oh, my God.

KADISH: I was so embarrassed.

(LAUGHTER)

VIGELAND: Marcia Kadish and Tanya McCloskey say they don't really feel the weight of history on their marriage, despite being one of a number of firsts on that day. They're just what they're always been - a corporate recruiter and a massage therapist. But as barriers to same-sex marriage continue to fall in states across the country, that day has proved a watershed.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 59 percent of the population now supports same-sex marriage. And corporate America has taken notice.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And while what it means to be a family hasn't changed, what a family looks like has.

VIGELAND: This Chevy ad that aired during this year's Olympics featured montages of people and families that included gay couples with children. Coke had similar storylines in a Super Bowl ad. It's hard to argue that those depictions are now the norm, it's still notable when a major brand releases a gay-friendly commercial. But it's a long way from where it was 20 years ago. IKEA released this commercial in march 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, you know, we went to IKEA 'cause we thought it was time for a serious dining room table.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: We decided...

VIGELAND: Just two guys, clearly a couple, talking about their new furniture.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This table concluded a leaf.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: A leaf means staying together, commitment. We got another leaf waiting when we really start getting along.

VIGELAND: It was reported to be the very first ad featuring a gay couple to air on mainstream TV. A week after its premiere, the fallout included protesters, jammed phone lines, and a bomb scare at a New York store. That commercial was unusual because at the time, if they advertised to the gay community at all, corporations focused on an LGBT-only audience. Ads in a gay magazine or sponsoring an LGBT event.

David Paisley has been doing market research on this subject for nearly 20 years.

DAVID PAISLEY: Now, that in some ways can be a little bit safer because you can target the communities. You know, nobody in San Francisco is going to bat an eye on a same-sex couple on a bus shelter poster. But if you did that in Wichita, it might be a different story, right?

VIGELAND: Paisley says in the early '90s, the company's only clients were the travel and alcohol industries. Then, a major publication ran an article about the purchasing power of the gay population.

PAISLEY: The Wall Street Journal recognized the LGBT community as a niche segment that could be very profitable for corporations. And when that article was written it was very groundbreaking.

VIGELAND: Paisley is quick to also credit gay employees within those corporations for pushing issues of equality. But the bottom-line is the bottom-line.

PAISLEY: All corporations, their main function is to make profit. And the LGBT community represents about 5 percent of American adults.

VIGELAND: Alienating five percent of your potential customer base isn't a sound business strategy. American Airlines learned that the hard way. In 1993, a man with advanced AIDS boarded a flight at O'Hare. Before the flight took off, he started an IV drip which was then against airline policy. A flight attendant asked him to put the drip away and to cover up open lesions on his face. When he refused, four policemen were called on board to arrest him.

The man sued. American revamped its training policies, but the damage to the brand was done.

PAISLEY: There was actually a boycott from the LGBT community against American over this situation. But what American did was called leaders into their office. They listened and they decided that in fact what happened was wrong and that they should have an outreach approach to change their image in the LGBT community. So in many ways they were the first major corporation to really have a very specific and targeted approach.

VIGELAND: The airline started offering special fares out of San Francisco and sponsoring LGBT events. And in 1994, the company added a sexual orientation non-discrimination clause to its bylaws.

PAISLEY: They were wildly successful and they really became the airline of choice for the gay and lesbian community.

VIGELAND: Twenty years hence, and 10 years after Massachusetts, some major corporations like Starbucks are now signing on to, and even raising money for, state ballot initiatives in favor of same-sex marriage. Others have found themselves embroiled in controversy over the issue. And corporate America isn't the only place that's happening.

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