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Frank recalled of trying to round up supporters for gay rights.

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Responding to the early stirrings in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, George Mc Govern became the first presidential candidate to identify himself with the movement by permitting openly gay speakers at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Legislation extending civil rights protections to gay men and lesbians, introduced by liberal Democrats beginning in 1974, continued to languish in Congress.

Four years later, Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist from Georgia, opposed discrimination against gay men and lesbians even as he marshaled support from evangelical Christians. Carter’s public liaison, Midge Costanza, held the first formal White House meeting with gay activists. Carter lost in 1980 to an ascendant Republican Party that, under President Ronald Reagan, melded social and economic conservatism. Reagan stood with gay activists in helping defeat a California ballot initiative that would have barred gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools. The emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, however, lent the movement new energy and urgency.

The epidemic propelled many closeted gay men and lesbians to begin identifying themselves publicly and raised the stakes for elected officials who were suddenly facing votes over the use of tax money to respond to a public health crisis.

Lawmakers aligned with gay activists began making alliances on Capitol Hill that had been impossible on more abstract issues of gay rights.“When it was purely symbolic, I couldn’t get them,” Mr.

In the past century in American politics, the sources of that reticence were no mystery.

Judeo-Christian teachings, interpreted as condemning homosexuality, provided the backdrop for political debate in a nation more religious than others in the industrialized world.

And as increasing numbers of gay employees became open about their sexuality, major corporations extended benefit programs to cover same-sex couples.“The private sector was always ahead of the politicians,” said Hilary Rosen, a Washington public relations consultant active in gay rights causes.

So was popular culture, particularly television, which in recent years has presented an array of gay figures in a positive light.

The law limited the definition of marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Clinton’s stance tracked American public opinion, which continued to distinguish gay rights from other civil rights causes.

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