Finding Gold in the Rainbow Rights Movement

In her history of the past fifty years of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, Patricia Cain recounts the litigation successes and failures that contributed to the legal status of gays and lesbians in the Untied States today. Clearly an insider who has marched with the movement every step of the way, Cain provides a comprehensive account of all fronts of the battle in state and federal courts since 1950. But while Rainbow Rights serves as a good primer on the legal challenges and the key themes uniting them, the book reads like an account of a struggle ending in defeat – not, as Cain describes, “a history of the litigation that has been central to the progress” of the movement (p. 9; emphasis added). Cain’s focus on the movement’s losses – most notably Bowers v. Hardwick – obscures the significance of its gains and, consequently, depicts the movement’s future as overly bleak. As a veteran of the movement, Cain seems more comfortable recounting setbacks and lost opportunities than providing an optimistic prescription for the future.