In his review of Michael Klarman's From the Closet to the Altar, Christopher Caldwell gives us a brief timeline (partly based on the book he is reviewing):
The American Civil Liberties Union was not interested in defending gay rights at all in 1957, when it called homosexuals "socially heretical or deviant." Its position had changed by 1973, but when the Homosexual Rights Committee of the ACLU's Southern California Branch made a list of six long-term priorities that year, marriage was not on it. In 1983, gay leaders had an opportunity to grill Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and John Glenn about issues they cared about. They didn't mention marriage at all. Even in 1991, when the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force asked its membership to rank civil-rights issues in order of importance, marriage did not make an appearance.
A growing number of gays in long-term relationships, however, were chafing at practical problems. Some objected to paying taxes on inherited property that married couples would not. (This difficulty is at the core of U.S. v. Windsor, one of the cases that will come before the Supreme Court this spring.) Gays also faced red tape in getting hospital visitation rights. Both problems were made more galling and poignant by the toll of AIDS in the late 1980s and early '90s. When gays began to sue, they discovered that judges looked more indulgently on their demands than the general public did. That changed everything. In 1993, a Hawaiian court opined that limiting marriage to men and women was a bias, and the state's Supreme Court backed them up in 1996. By then, gay rights lobbies were beginning to recruit couples for court challenges. In 1999, Vermont's Supreme Court ordered the legislature to come up with a plan to give gays marriage rights. Hence the first "civil unions" bill in 2000. And there was another factor abetting these marriage suits: bold administrators had begun assigning adoptive children to gay couples. So cases were now arising in which the question before the court was whether it were better that a gay couple raising a child be married or unmarried.Twenty years—as opposed to the entire history of Western civilization (or any other civilization for that matter). That's how historically novel is the impetus required to spook those who have set themselves up as spokesman for the cause of conservatism into abandoning their stations on the cultural battlements and trampling their own troops in their headlong flight for political safety.
If this were a literal war, these people would be summarily hung.
Caldwell points out the irony of casting the gay marriage effort as somehow akin to the civil rights movement:
Civil rights movements arise to defend the downtrodden. But never since the Progressive Era has there been a social movement as elite-driven as the one for gay marriage. No issue divides the country more squarely by class. Opponents of California's anti-marriage Proposition 8 have come to include virtually all of Hollywood, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the White House.Hollywood. Apple. Google. Amazon. Not exactly a bunch of people you run into on the bread line. In fact, the elite aspect of the whole movement is hard to miss.
And it isn't exactly like those wanting to redefine marriage have faced anything like the opposition faced by civil rights demonstrators. Blacks had to contend with Birmingham police wielding fire hoses. The only fire hoses now are those being gotten ready to disperse the peaceful crowd of people (still quite substantial) which doesn't care much for the new Diversity regime.
And it wasn't just fire hoses. In the civil rights march from Selma to Birmingham, it was billy clubs and tear gas. Discrimination, sometimes violent, was a daily reality for Blacks. For gays it is little more than a pose. They are celebrated by our cultural institutions, not opposed.
In any case, Caldwell's review is a good read. See the rest here.