The brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was a galvanizing moment for gay rights in the U.S. Shepard was eulogized by famed politicians, including Congressmen Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank, yet his own Wyoming Senators, both Republicans, refused to comment. TIME’s cover story highlighted the political implications of the murder, calling attention to the politicians who condemned it yet refused to help advance the state of gay rights in the U.S.
Gay politics is more complicated than ever right now because what seems like an irresistible force of cultural change is meeting an immovable object of political resistance. For a long time, lesbians and gays have been defining themselves into the ordinary fabric of life. All the while, conservatives have been field-testing homosexuality as a defining issue for the Republican Party, especially for the next presidential election.