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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Leonard Matlovitch, 40 Years Later

The most important Supreme Court decision of 2015 was probably Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages. But Obergefell is only one link in a chain of Supreme Court and lower court decisions addressing gay rights. And until recently, many - if not most - of those decisions cut against gay rights, instead of in their favor.

In any case, on October 30, NPR's Morning Edition aired a StoryCorps interview with Jeff Dupre and his husband David Phillips, in which Dupre discusses his friendship with Leonard Matlovitch, the plaintiff in one of those actions. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matlovitch was a Vietnam veteran who received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Forty years ago, in March 1975, he delivered a letter to his commanding officer stating that he was gay, and the Air Force initiated discharge procedures. For five years, Matlovitch fought his dismissal in federal court, eventually gaining reinstatement and initiating a long process that led to the enactment and eventual repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Sadly, Matlovitch died of AIDS on June 22, 1988. His name is not on his tombstone, which reads, "A Gay Vietnam Veteran / When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." Matlovitch's role in this civil rights struggle isn't remembered as well as it ought to be (I recommend this short biography, which I found very moving, or this website), and I think the StoryCorps interview provides a nice opportunity to reflect on his legacy.

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Posted by Brian Frye on November 3, 2015 at 01:54 PM | Permalink

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