Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, is arguing that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against gay couples who are already legally married. It hopes its incremental approach will lead to a broader ruling by the Supreme Court.
Two years ago, a small and little-known civil rights group in Boston launched a legal attack on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman. But it did not argue that gays and lesbians have a right to marry under the Constitution.
Instead its strategy was to take smaller steps first and focus on a narrower argument: that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against legally married gay couples.
Well aware that fundamental change in the law comes slowly, the group has followed the model of incremental wins laid out by Thurgood Marshall's attack on racial segregation in the 1950s and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's campaign against sex discrimination in the 1970s.
Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund before he became the nation's first black Supreme Court justice, brought civil rights cases for two decades before he won the historic high court ruling that struck down racial segregation.
He sued first on behalf of well-qualified black college students who were denied admission to their state law schools because of their race. His victories in those cases established the principle that racial discrimination in higher education violated the Constitution. The logic of that ruling then paved the way for a broad attack on segregation in all public schools throughout the South.