The Decade's Rise of Gay Marriage

"'Matt,' I said, 'I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime. It may happen in yours,'" Shepard said. "It turned out to be the other way around."

Gay marriage won't solve every problem in the community, Shepard pointed out. Federally employed gays and lesbians still cannot get benefits for their partners or spouses and many employers still discriminate against openly gay and lesbian hires.

The military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, still stands, much to the chagrin of open gay and lesbian military members who want the right to serve their country. President Obama has promised to end the ban, but has not given any timetable for such an effort.

Shepard said that, in her mind, one of the LGBT community's biggest victories of the decade came not from same-sex marriage advances, but from President Obama's signing this year of federal hate crime legislation that specifically protects the gay community.

"It sends a message," she said, "that they recgonize the gay community exists."

Gay Marriage and the Bush Administration: Progress or 'Very Dark Years?'

Shepard, whose book, "The Meaning of Matthew" hit stores in September, became a tireless advocate for LGBT rights after her son's murderers were sent to prison and still does 30 to 40 speeches a year.

"I couldn't understand why the gay community was being denied anything," she said. "They're American citizens."

She called the Bush administration "the very dark years."

"I think we'd be further along if we didn't have that eight year interruption," she said.

It's a sentiment shared by some of her fellow advocates.

"I think you can not underestimate how cleverly the conservative movement leveraged marriage for their political gain," Chrisler said, pointing to the 2004 election as a particularly damaging time for the gay community.

"I don't think that's the reason John Kerry lost in his presidential election, but I think it's the first time in really super-susbstantive ways there was debate about marriage equality in a national dialogue," she said.

Sprigg said he considered DOMA to be a defining moment in the movement to protect what he said is the sanctity of the family.

The law, he said, "has been effective in preventing the extension of benefits to same sex couples within the federal government and also has been effective in protecting the rights of states to define marriage for themselves."

In the next 10 years, he said, it will be crucial to protect DOMA ""because it maintains a crucial line of defense for the states as well as the example set by the federal government."

Brian Brown, executive director and founder of the National Organization for Marriage, said he founded the organization two years ago to counter the gay and lesbian groups ""trying to force same sex marriage through the state legislature and through the courts."

"This decade might be better termed the rise and fall of gay marriage," he said, noting, like Sprigg, that the LGBT movement seemed to expect that liberal states such as New York and Washington would take a cue from Massachusetts and Connecticut and allow same-sex marriage.

"That did not happen and instead what happened was that Prop 8 happened and that changed everything," he said.

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