The extension of political and social rights to lesbians and gay men has been one of the most volatile political issues the United States has seen in recent years. As a consequence of struggles for gay rights, families have been divided, local communities conflicted, and governmental institutions contested and reviled. For some, gay rights represent the just culmination of campaigns for full citizenship. For others, gay rights symbolize the unacceptable but inevitable excesses of a culture out of control. For all those who care, the legal rights of lesbians and gay men is an issue not just close to hearts, but reflective of the individual and collective soul.
Initially, gay rights struggles largely took the form of demands to remove criminal sanctions from same-sex sexual behavior. Throughout the West, and somewhat reluctantly in the United States, the repeal or modification of sodomy, buggery, and other homosexually identified criminal laws was partially successful; one could point to