21 classic works of gay literature

The historic decision on same-sex marriage prompts celebrations outside the Supreme Court.

The historic decision on same-sex marriage prompts celebrations outside the Supreme Court.

(Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed, clearing the way for gay marriage nationwide. As celebrations broke out, many on social media began sharing parts of the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, which concludes with unusual poetry.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

For many years, as gay rights activists have fought for equal opportunity, lesbian and gay writers have penned works that provide a richer understanding of the joys and challenges of their lives. In 2010, David Ulin, Nick Owchar and I compiled a list of 20 classic works of gay literature -- today, we add a 21st: Kennedy’s decision.


21 classic works of gay literature:

James Baldwin: “Giovanni’s Room” -- a man discovers his sexual identity in Paris

Djuna Barnes: “Nightwood” -- early postmodern fiction of women in Paris in love

Alison Bechdel: “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” -- a graphic novel memoir of her troubled gay father and her own coming out, recently adapted as a Tony award-winning Broadway show

Rita Mae Brown: “Rubyfruit Jungle” -- the 1973 tale of a young woman’s coming of age

William S. Burroughs: “Naked Lunch” -- the landmark experimental novel’s gay sex scenes made it the focus of a breakthrough obscenity trial

Richard Elmann: “Oscar Wilde” -- biography of the lively writer whose gay relationship got him sent to prison for “gross indecency”

E.M. Forster: “Maurice” -- this love story, written when homosexuality was illegal in England, was published posthumously

Radclyffe Hall: “The Well of Loneliness” -- groundbreaking lesbian novel of the 1920s

E. Lynn Harris: “Invisible Life” -- an African American law student’s sexual discovery

Allen Ginsberg: “Howl” -- the poem was subject to an obscenity trial in part because of its explicit gay themes


Jean Genet: “Our Lady of the Flowers” -- published in 1944, it portrays sexual adventures in Paris’ criminal underground

Anthony M. Kennedy: The Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, clearing the way for same-sex marriage nationwide

Mark Merlis: “American Studies” -- an aging man looks back; winner of the L.A. Times book prize for first fiction

July 1, 4:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled Mark Merlis’ last name as Marlis.

Armistead Maupin: “Tales of the City” main character Michael Tolliver’s life portrayed over a series of novels set in gay-friendly San Francisco

Paul Monette: “Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir” -- a breathtaking yet matter-of-fact, day-by-day account of the death of his longtime partner from AIDS

Annie Proulx: “Brokeback Mountain” a story of cowboys in love, from the collection “Close Range,” which became the Oscar-winning film

John Rechy: “City of Night” -- a novel of gay street hustlers in the 1950s

Sappho: “The Complete Poems” -- women’s love poetry from the 7th century BC

Hubert Selby Jr.: “The Queen Is Dead” -- a story of a transvestite’s death, from his 1964 collection “Last Exit to Brooklyn”

Colm Toibin: “The Master” -- a fictional imagining of the life of Henry James

Jeanette Winterson: “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” -- a young woman’s sexual awakening that won the Whitbread Prize for first fiction

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