PHILADELPHIA — Regina Sullivan started crying as she squeezed her arms around the man at the center of the latest gay rights milestone: Jim Obergefell, whose lawsuit led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage the law of the land.
Sullivan, 17, offered her embrace before a ceremony Thursday where Obergefell helped place a wreath at a historical marker commemorating one of the movement’s first milestones: a rally near Philadelphia’s Independence Hall a half-century ago.
“For me, it’s an honor to be here to pay tribute to those people who took much bigger risks than I did and laid the groundwork for John and me to be married and for us to stand up and have the courage to fight,” said Obergefell. “Without the people here in Philadelphia 50 years ago, I wouldn’t be here.”
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“It is so fortuitous that these two events should collide,” said Malcolm Lazin, the head of the four-day National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Obergefell and fellow marriage equality champion Edith Windsor, whose Supreme Court case ended the Defense of Marriage Act, are among the featured guests at a tribute Saturday to the 1965 protest.
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Led by activists Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, 40 people protested outside Independence Hall on July 4, 1965, a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness and standing up for equality put gays and lesbians at risk of persecution.
The protest and subsequent rallies were seen as stepping stones to the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 and a 1970 march from Greenwich Village to Central Park that attracted several thousand people.
Tourists – some wearing American flag hats from a nearby hoagie giveaway – wondered what the crowds and cameras were all about. “Is the president in town?” a child asked. Curious workers in brightly colored shirts peered from a water department truck stopped at a red light.
The wreath laying started under overcast skies, but the sun broke through as “America’s Got Talent” semifinalist Jonathan Allen sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
More fortuitous timing.
Afterward, there were more hugs for Obergefell, more pictures and more thanks.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’m still processing. Still hoping it sinks in,” said Obergefell. “But it’s been just filled with a lot of joy. A lot of happiness. A lot of people stopping me to thank me. It’s incredible how frequently that happens.”
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