I can’t believe we’re already closing in on the one-year anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage in America. I still remember the euphoria that surrounded that day and the days that followed. Of course, there’s still more to do, like ensuring the Equality Act gets passed, but this historic anniversary lends itself to reflection. Who, exactly, made this possible? Each state has its own list with people from all walks of life and career fields on it, but in California, you would be remiss to not mention out politicians Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Christine Kehoe and Jackie Goldberg. Filmmakers Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares knew that and dedicated a whole documentary to them: Political Animals.
California State Senator Christine Kehoe, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, American Politician Jackie Goldberg and California State Senator Carole MigdenPhoto by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage
Something must have been in the water in California in the mid-’90s and early 2000s because it was during this time that the state’s first openly gay representatives were elected, and they were all women. Sheila Kuehl was the first, being elected to the California State Assembly in 1994 and serving until 2000 before joining the California State Senate and serving until 2008. She wasn’t alone for long, as Carole Migden was part of the Assembly from ‘96 (she jokes in the film that Sheila was the first lesbian but, “I was the first femme.”) until 2002 before joining the Senate from 2004 to 2008. Two ‘newbies’ would then join the Assembly in 2000: Jackie Goldberg (State Assembly: 2000-06) and Christine Kehoe (State Assembly: 2000-04; State Senate: 2004-12).
So why four lesbians as opposed to, for example, four gay men? Well, that comes down to a combination of factors. First, we need to recognize and celebrate the fact that you could be out in politics and win, even if it did take until the ‘90s. That’s because the gay rights movement was making itself heard and making it safe to talk about gay issues. Movements, of course, weren’t a new thing for politically conscious women, including many lesbians who had been involved in the feminist movement, among others. That experience would prove to be very helpful later on for all four of the women.
Another point that has to be mentioned is that many gay male leaders of the time had died as a result of the AIDS crisis. By contrast, lesbians seemed less threatening than these gay men and were often underestimated because they were women. What truly mattered, however, was that gay women now held political power. In California, they would use that power to take up the issues of the gay community in the legislature.
All of this is not to say that there was nothing particularly special about these four women. Their constituents certainly thought so, and their CVs more than prove them right.