WASHINGTON -- When the cops arrived to raid the Stonewall Inn on the night of June 27, 1969, David Velasco Bermudez headed for the exits, but he couldnt make his way through the crowded bar before getting hit in the neck by a policewoman swinging a billy club.
But then Bermudez, who at 29 had learned to submit to routine beatings by New York City police, did something different: He fought back, and so did his friends.
We never, ever hit back, said Bermudez, now 73, a retired interior designer now living in Cape Cod, Mass. But we had just had enough of it. . . . Its like Rosa Parks sitting inside a bus. We just did it.
Gays and lesbians have been fighting ever since.
On Wednesday, just one day shy of the 44th anniversary of the raid that launched the gay rights movement, the battle hit a crescendo when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage is no longer the sole domain of straight couples.
Oh, my God, its a whole different world, said Bermudez, who called the change mindboggling.
While the court also said gay marriages could resume in California, it did nothing to change the gay marriage bans still in effect in 30 states. But legal experts said that the courts rulings mark an irreversible step toward making gay marriage the law of the land.
Jesse Choper, a professor of public law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, called it part of the egalitarian revolution that has been growing in the United States.
Theres a great increase in liberal attitudes, and its not just California. And efforts to stop it are being rejected, said Choper. Its just a public attitude: Equality is viewed with much greater sympathy, and not only in race.
In the end, the call for marriage equality proved to be a powerful strategy for gays and lesbians, many of whom were no longer satisfied with state-sanctioned civil unions and domestic partnerships.
They found increased sympathy as they put a spotlight on the differences in their relationships: Even in states with gay marriage laws, they had no access to the 1,138 federal rights granted to straight couples, including big tax advantages.
When the high court heard arguments in March, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took note of the disparity, saying the U.S. had created two kinds of marriage: the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.
After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, gay couples who are legally married in states that allow gay marriage will not be shut out of federal rights and benefits.
Theyll now get federal benefits and it will add to the momentum of the cause around the country, said Dale Carpenter, a professor of civil rights and civil liberties law at the University of Minnesota. It will add to the sense that this is the direction we are moving and need to move.
With the addition of California, 13 states and the District of Colombia now have gay marriage laws, and seven others recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Marianne DelPo Kulow, an associate professor of law at Bentley University in Massachusetts, predicted that gay marriage across the nation will quickly reach a tipping point, with the Supreme Court now acknowledging that states have a right to regulate gay marriages. She said the court soon will have to rule on the state gay marriage bans.