Looking Back on the Heroes of Marriage Equality

Written by | Lifestyle

We proudly salute the icons and unsung heroes who spearheaded the drive for marriage equality. Plus: Where the new battle lines are being drawn.

Kathy Griffin

Photo courtesy of Steve Jennings/Bravo

In honor of the first anniversary of national marriage quality, we’ve compiled a list some of the best-known and least celebrated heroes of the movement — from early pioneers like Frank Kameny to superstar supporters like Kathy Griffin.

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell

When Minneapolis couple Jack Baker and Michael McConnell were denied a marriage license in 1971, they changed Baker’s first name to “Pat Lyn McConnell” and got married by a Methodist minister in a different county — becoming recognized as America’s first (somewhat) legally married couple.


Mrs. Carter showed support for marriage equality during Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8, posting a handwritten note on Instagram that said “If you like it you should be able to put a ring on it. #wewillunite4marriageequality!

Rea Carey

As the Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Carey was instrumental in winning marriage equality through grassroots campaigns, including pushing for the U.S. Census Bureau to record married same-sex couples in the 2010 census.

Kevin Cathcart

Since 1992, Kevin Cathcart has been the Executive Director of Lambda Legal. Under his leadership the organization helped to keep Colorado’s Amendment 2 from taking effect, to strike down sodomy laws via Lawrence v. Texas, and to make Iowa the first the first state in the Midwest to offer marriage equality.

Kevin Cathcart

Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal

Ellen DeGeneres

DeGeneres married Portia de Rossi in 2008 during the brief period before the right to marry in California was interrupted by Prop 8. Her immense popularity has made them a poster couple for marriage equality for many Americans.

Sarah Kate Ellis

As President and CEO of GLAAD, Ellis has been instrumental in shaping the conversation about marriage equality, celebrating the Supreme Court decision, saying: “Today, love prevailed and our nation became a more perfect union by affirming that all people are indeed created equal and justice belongs to everyone.”

Sarah Kate Ellis

Photo courtesy of GLAAD

Chad Griffin

As President of HRC, Griffin oversees our largest national LGBT civil rights organization. After Prop 8, Griffin helped found the American Foundation for Equal Rights with attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies to challenge California’s ban on gay marriage in federal court.

Chad Griffin

Photo courtesy of Washingtonpost/gettyimages

Kathy Griffin

Griffin has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, even going door-to-door for the LA LGBT Center’s “Vote for Equality” campaign, asking the people of Los Angeles to vote in favor of equality and LGBT rights.

Frank Kameny

Sometimes called the “Rosa Parks” of the LGBT civil rights movement, Kameny was fired as a government astronomer in 1957 because of his sexual orientation. His appeal of that decision was the first national petition to a high court for a violation of human rights based on sexual orientation. Nearly a decade before the Stonewall Riots, Kameny publicly called the policy that led to his dismissal “grossly inconsistent with the fundamental precepts upon which this government is based.”

Roberta Kaplan

Kaplan argued her way to victory in U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court case that ruled DOMA unconstitutional. President Bill Clinton has said, “United States v. Windsor was a landmark ruling, and the case’s architect, Roberta Kaplan, emerged as a true American hero.”


Madonna has been promoting respect for the gay community since the ‘80s. In June 2011, she encouraged fans: “Tell your state Congressmen to support same sex marriage. … All you need is love.” She continues to rally her fans at concerts and through social media.

Gavin Newsom

Newsom made a major mark on LGBT rights in 2004 as the mayor of San Francisco when he gave the San Francisco city clerk orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

President Barack Obama

In May 2012, President Obama announced his support for full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. In an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, President Obama stated: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” When marriage equality passed, Obama called the decision “a victory for America.”

President Obama

Photo courtesy of the White House

Jim Obergefell

In the pursuit of recognition for his marriage to John Arthur, Jim Obergefell became the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges that led to legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the nation.

Edie Windsor

U.S. v. Windsor provided one of the most influential legal precedents in the fight for marriage equality. Windsor brought suit when the IRS attempted to charge her hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes after the death of her spouse Dr. Thea Spyer. For her efforts a trailblazer for LGBT rights, Windsor has been recognized with the LGBT Community Center Trailblazer Award, the Susan B. Anthony Award, a Presidential Medal from NYU, the Trailblazer of Democracy Award, and the Laura Hestel Award, among others.

Chuck Wolfe

Wolfe served as the President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a political committee dedicated to growing the number of openly LGBT elected officials in the United States. The organization was instrumental in creating visibility for the LGBT community and promoting politicians like the first LGBT U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Evan Wolfson

Founder and president of Freedom to Marry, Wolfson was essential in designing the movement that led to nationwide marriage equality. He served as co-counsel in the historic Hawaii marriage case that launched a global movement for freedom to marry, directed Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project throughout the ‘90s and created the National Freedom to Marry Coalition.

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Last modified: June 22, 2018