Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriages in 2004, only a year after the Supreme Court threw out a Texas sodomy law. Legal experts say it removed a huge obstacle toward legitimizing gay relationships, taking away the argument that gays were presumptive criminals.
Its pretty phenomenal: If you look at other civil rights movements, Im not sure you could track that much change in one lifetime, said Kulow.
Carpenter cited two reasons why gay marriage is no longer the political hot potato of 1996, when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act: overwhelming support from younger voters, especially post-baby boomers born after 1964, and an avalanche of gays and lesbians coming out of the closet, introducing Americans to gay teachers, gay soldiers, gay neighbors, gay kids, gay athletes, gay mayors and gay senators.
They have put a very human face on what would otherwise be an abstract legal cause, Carpenter said.
Bermudez can count on immediate payoffs: He married Bob Isadore, his partner of 40 years, in Massachusetts in 2004, on the 35th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion. Isadore, 70, is a disabled veteran, and Bermudez said he now will be able to be buried next to his husband and eligible to receive part of his pension and Social Security benefits.
Im so happy, he said. You could say Im hysterical. We have loved each other all these years.
On the night that Bermudez walked into history, he went to the bar in Greenwich Village to have one quick beer and to join friends who were mourning the death of gay icon Judy Garland, the singer and actress who died of a drug overdose in London five days earlier. He said Garlands death produced a huge outpouring of grief and may have fueled the response when police arrived.
After he got hit by the billy club, Bermudez said he was grabbed by a police officer who tried to take him into custody: I said baloney: Everybody was fighting, so I fought back.
In the past, he said, he and his friends did nothing as police officers beat them up, threw them in paddy wagons and took them to police stations. And he said he saw too many friends lose their jobs or apartments after getting arrested and then finding their names, addresses and telephone numbers published in local newspapers.
The riot made gay rights a national cause.
Four years later, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1977, San Franciscos Harvey Milk became the nations first openly gay city commissioner. In 1980, the Democratic Party endorsed gay rights at its New York convention. The push for gay marriage quickly followed.
Bermudez estimates that only 20 of the 200 people who resisted police at Stonewall are alive. He and Isadore lived in the San Jose area in the 1980s, watching as AIDS took most of their friends.
Back then, he said, he thought he would die and that the gay world is over.
Next year, he plans to march down Fifth Avenue in New York City to mark Stonewalls 45th anniversary. The other day, he said, a friend told him hes lucky he can watch the big changes and share his story with younger Americans who have a hard time understanding the brutality of Stonewall.
You know, hes right: Im so happy to be alive, Bermudez said. And while Im alive, Im going to let them know.