"If society and I differ on something, I'm willing to give the matter a second look. If we still differ, then I am right and society is wrong; and society can go its way as long as it doesn't get in my way. But if it does, there's going to be a fight. And I'm not going to be the one who backs down. That has been an underlying premise of the conduct of my life."
--- Dr. Franklin E. Kameny quoted in The Gay Crusaders, by Kay Tobin and Randy Wicker, 1972.
It has been said that if the federal government had known in 1957 what it was starting when it fired Dr. Franklin Edward Kameny from his position as an astronomer in the Army Mapping Service, they would have kept him on and promoted him.
Fired from his position because of his homosexuality, and related legal issues, Kameny fought back from the very beginning. The Army fired him on December 20, 1957 and on January 15, 1958 the US Civil Service Commission banned him from federal employment for at least three years. He lost no time in taking his case to the courts. He worked his way through the federal courts, losing all the way. His lawyer gave up after the case was dismissed by the US Court of Appeals on June 23, 1960.
On January 27, 1961, Kameny submitted a carefully reasoned, unapologetic, sixty-four page writ asking the US Supreme Court to review his case, Kameny v. Brucker . Less than three months later, on March 17, 1961, the Supreme Court unanimously declined the writ and let the lower court rulings stand.
As we know now, that was just the beginning. Seven months later, on November 15, 1961, Dr. Kameny and Jack Nichols organized a new militantly combative and rigorously organized gay civil rights organization, the Mattachine Society of Washington. Over the next ten years that organization waged a determined and often successful campaign against federal employment discrimination (resolved in 1975), against the medical establishment and psychiatry's definition of homosexuality as a pathology (resolved in 1973), for local guarantees of civil protections for homosexuals (resolved in 1973) and for sodomy law reform (not resolved until 2003).
Kameny's 1961 writ of certiorari anticipates very closely the arguments and positions he and the Mattachine Society of Washington would articulate over coming years. His combative and unyielding conviction that homosexuals are not immoral and are not different in citizenship rights from any other citizen. The writ asserts unequivocally that the government has no basis for legislating or dictating standards of morality or for defining the private actions and convictions of its citizens. The writ equates the plight of the nation's homosexuals in 1961with that of the nation's other minorities:
"This [homosexuals] is a group comparable in size to the Negro minority, and of roughly the same order of magnitude as the Catholic minority; a group some 2 1/2 times the size of the country's Jewish minority and equivalent to the world's Jewish population. It is a group that has borne and is bearing the brunt of a persecution and discrimination of a harshness and ferocity at least as severe as that directed against these other minorities, but which persecution instead of being mitigated and ameliorated by the government's attitudes and practices, has instead been intensified by them ... "
Kameny's extreme irritation and even anger at civil servants' overreaching and moralizing surfaces at several points in the text of the writ. In considering the imputations of 'immorality', he declares
"Petition asserts, flatly, unequivocally, and absolutely uncompromisingly that homosexuality, whether by mere inclination or 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."
The statements made and the attitude evinced in Kameny's writ vary markedly from the statements and attitudes of his predecessors in the movement for gay civil rights. As he reaches the end of his review of the government's procedures, assumptions, biases, and policies, Dr. Kameny's exasperation surfaces when he declares:
"Respondent's case is rotten to the core. Respondent's case has been shown to fail factually and to be defective procedurally ... The entire bases for respondents actions in this and in similar cases have been shown to be arbitrary, capricious and without reasonable foundation ... The government's entire set of policies and practices in this field is bankrupt, and needs a searching re-assessment and re-evaluation ..."
The writ is classic Kameny.
Eskridge, William N., Jr., January 27, 1961: The Birth of Gay Legal Equality Arguments, New York University Annual Survey of American Law, 2001 , Vol. 58, pp. 39 - 58.
Murdoch, Joyce, and Deb Price, Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court, New York: Basic Books, 2001, pp. 51 - 64.