The Marriage Equality Battle Is Now History

Jun 27, 2015
Originally published on June 28, 2015 9:23 am

Nothing says history like a retrospective exhibit.

Moving very fast, the New York Public Library responded to the Supreme Court's monumental same-sex marriage decision on June 26 by mounting a flash display of photos and documents featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, in the Astor Hall exhibit room of the library's main branch on the same day.

"The New York Public Library holds one of the most important collections of LGBT material in the world, comprehensively documenting the struggles of everyday life, the fight for civil rights and the lives of prominent LGBT writers, artists, and scholars," Tony Marx, the library's president, said in a statement. "We are proud to share several highlights of those collections in this new display".

The pop-up presentation will hold the room until July 14, the library says. But if you can't make it to the lion-flanked, art deco building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, you can browse through the library's extensive online LGBT archives. And you can sample some of the exhibit wares right here on this page:

  • A 1934 portrait of American expatriates and iconic same-sex couple, writer Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas. "They regarded themselves as married," wrote Diana Souhami in her book Gertrude and Alice. "Their life together became a paradigm of a good relationship. They fell in love, saw life from the same point of view, and lived, as a couple, with much emphasis on harmony, until parted by death. They were happy and they said so."
  • A photo of Jack Baker and Michael McConnell. According to the New York Times of May 16, 2015, Baker and McConnell in 1970 became "the first same-sex couple known to apply for a marriage license" in this country. Turned down, they got a license from another county and in 1971 had a wedding ceremony. "They are still happily married, and they love each other," the preacher who married them told the Times.
  • A copy of Daddy's Wedding by Michael Willhoite. Published in 1996, it was one of the first children's books to depict a same-sex wedding. The book drew a lot of attention, not all of it positive. "This book is less a literary effort than a work to reassure those in similar situations," observed the Kirkus Review. The book was a sequel to Willhoite's controversial Daddy's Roommate, which was published in 1990.

Showcasing one of the library's significant collections "can help put this landmark news in perspective," Marx tells NPR. "As the country reacts to the Supreme Court's significant decision, the library's role in chronicling history is extremely important and relevant."

A good public library holds on to treasures, such as key books, photos and artifacts, and shares them with the public, Marx says.

In recent years the New York Public Library has created "small displays that touch on and contribute to the news of the day," he explains. He ticks off a few, including exhibits marking the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the re-opening of Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, commemorations of Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou and an exploration of the Stamp Act, which is currently on view.

"Exhibitions have always been a big part of what the New York Public Library does," Marx adds. "These smaller displays timed to news events are now an exciting part of how we can bring our collections to life for the public. We anticipate they will part of the Library's offerings for a long time."

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