In 1961, the indomitable, unstoppable Frank Kameny filed a petition with the Supreme Court which scholars now believe marked the first time anyone made the legal case for LGBT civil equality with arguments firmly rooted in the Constitution, rather than more emotional or philosophical pleas for acceptance or tolerance. Kameny did so "on behalf of 15 million homosexuals," in a writing style similar to a solar flare:
"...the government's policies...are a stench in the nostrils of decent people, an offense against morality, an abandonment of reason, an affront to human dignity, an improper restraint upon proper freedom and liberty, a disgrace to any civilized society, and a violation of all that this nation stands for."
The Supreme Court denied his petition 50 years ago this week, according to Kameny.
This historic document does not appear in textbooks and has been lost to scholars for decades. A few years ago William N. Eskridge referenced its importance in a legal article but the full text has not been readily available until now. In a triumph of archive activism, Kameny Papers co-founder Charles Francis has retyped the petition and added background material. As editor, he has created Petition Denied, Revolution Begun: Frank Kameny Petitions the Supreme Court, now available exclusively on Kindle. I would be incredibly inspired by this even if he were not my partner.
Already housed in the Library of Congress's collection of Kameny papers, his Supreme Court petition will become part of the library's ongoing exhibit "Creating the United States," when they update it in late April. This early demand for legal recognition of lesbian and gay equality will stand among documents by Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and other powerful voices in the shaping of America.