Jane Addams was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize, as the Peace Prize laureate in 1931. She was also a woman who saw herself as married - not just 'as good as' - to another woman. In fact, she wrote as much - clear as day. In 1902.
The line of questioning directed to Mary Bonauto in last Tuesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the right to marry curiously focused on one point: the 'millennia' during which the definition of marriage excluded homosexual couples. I didn't find this idea of 'millennia' to be particularly persuasive, and neither did Bonauto, who did an excellent job refuting it. But it got me thinking: is it really so that there was no 'gay marriage' prior to the Netherlands in 2001? In this instance, in reply to this complex issue, the answer is a nuanced 'no.' It is true that legal marriage was not extended to gay couples prior to 2001, but to say that gay couples prior to 2001 did not seek marriage, did not live in marriage-like relationships, were not accepted by their communities as 'married' is simply not true. There were many couples who were 'as good as' married but who couldn't possibly have been recognized as such by the state. As Bonauto insisted yesterday, it took a long time to convince the courts of the basic human dignity of LGBT people. Marriage wasn't on the horizon when the fight was for recognition as people. We see examples of similarly committed gay couples throughout history, but for the sake of argument and time, I'll confine myself to a very brief overview historical American lesbians (and also because the Wikipedia page focuses on gay male couples).