10 Years Afterbrokeback Mountain
It's hard to believe, but exactly ten years ago -- that's December 9, 2005, FYI -- Ang Lee's ' Brokeback Mountain ' hit theaters to a deluge of tasteless jokes from the Fox News crowd and awards buzz alike. The simple, beautifully crafted love story between two cowboys (played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger ) in 1963 Wyoming had audiences hooked, with the film eventually earning Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
What's even harder to believe than the cruel passage of time, however, is the controversy and seemingly non-stop media coverage 'Brokeback' garnered a mere decade ago. In 2015, 'Carol,' 'The Danish Girl,' and 'Tangerine' are all earning awards buzz of their own -- and of course there's Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and shows like 'Orange is the New Black' moving LGBTQ representation forward on television -- but back in 2005, a movie about two men falling in love on a mountain was enough to cause not only theater bans , but allegations of a liberal agenda in Hollywood. It's truly wild.
However, just because it seems like things are hunky-dory for the LGBTQ crowd now -- at least compared to ten years ago -- does that mean they actually are? Would the Marriage Equality Act be enough to provide doomed lovers Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist with the life they truly wanted and deserved? We spoke with top LGBTQ legal experts to find out how Ennis and Jack's story might have changed, from 1963 to 2005 to today.
In 1963, it was totally realistic for Ennis to live in fear of being openly gay with Jack. Because on so many levels, being gay was physically, mentally, and emotionally dangerous -- in Wyoming, as well as on the federal level.
'In the 60s, the very first state in the country to decriminalize intimacy between people of the same sex... was Illinois, in 1961,' Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Camilla Taylor told MTV News over the phone.
Sodomy wasn't decriminalized in Wyoming until 1977, however, meaning that if Ennis and Jack were caught, they could be subject to a whole number of horrors -- including institutionalization.
'Sexuality was not removed from the DSM, which is the basic manual for doctors, the diagnostic and statistical manual, until 1973. So prior to that, the medical community thought of gay people as having a mental illness,' Taylor said, adding that treatment for this 'mental illness' could include everything from electric shock therapy to sterilization.
Also, that scene where Jack didn't get the second gig at Brokeback because Randy Quaid saw him kissing Ennis? Sadly realistic, since 'there were no state or federal level protections from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1963,' according to Christy Mallory, an Anna M. Curren Fellow and Senior Counsel at the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A.
And even if Ennis or Jack had miraculously been able to hold down a job -- and of course, avoid prison or institutionalization -- back then, they would have probably had to deal with not seeing their children anymore.
'When gay relationships are criminal, your embittered former spouse can say that you’re engaging in criminal behavior, or that you’ve admitted you’re a pervert,' Taylor explained. 'That was considered justification for preventing that child ever from having contact with a parent again.'
In 2005...Focus Features
By the time 'Brokeback' hit theaters, the legal situation was obviously much better in terms of physical protection for the LGBTQ crowd, in the sense that conversion therapy, electric shock, and castration were no longer allowed. Though, perhaps surprisingly, things weren't as great as one might think.
'In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down criminal laws that had the effect of criminalizing gay people, because there were still 13 states that had laws saying that if you had consensual adult intimacy with another person, you could be convicted of a crime,' Taylor explained. 'In some states, you had to register as a sex offender.'
So, yes -- by 2005, Ennis and Jack could have legally had sex in Wyoming. But at that point, Mallory explained, only 16 states had laws that prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Wyoming was not one of them -- in fact, Wyoming had no anti-discrimination legislation at all -- so Jack could very probably have been denied work based on his sexual orientation.
Jack and Ennis would have fared better when it came to custody of their children, however (at least if they had the right judge). According to Taylor, in the mid-'90s, gay rights advocates began to argue that, since women were no longer being penalized for having extramarital heterosexual affairs if they weren't a threat to the children (back in the '60s, this still commonly happened -- until the courts realized it was a 'double standard' that men weren't penalized for their heterosexual affairs), gay men and women shouldn't be punished for their homosexual affairs, either.
Oh, and it also probably goes without saying that Wyoming was not an early adopter of marriage equality.
In 2015...Focus Features
Finally, here we are today in 2015, the year when the historic, game-changing Marriage Equality Act made everything perfect for gay people, right?
Not right, if you happen to live near Brokeback Mountain, where there are still no laws banning discrimination in place.
'Even still today, Wyoming does not have a statewide law that prohibits employment discrimination against LGBT people,' Mallory said. 'Additionally, there is still no federal law that explicitly prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.'
Also, Williams Institute faculty director Douglas NeJaime says that while most states are kinder to LGBTQ parents with children, 'some state courts, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi, remain hostile to openly gay parents and let the parents’ sexual orientation affect their custody rights.'
Perhaps most damning, however, is that while 2009's Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by gender and sexual orientation, Wyoming -- Shepard's home state -- 'does not have a state-level hate crimes law,' according to Mallory. It is one of five states in the U.S. that does not have hate crime legislation in place, and even last summer, its Governor Matt Mead insisted that it does not need one.
In other words, Ennis and Jack's love affair would look a whole lot different in 2015 than it did in the 1960s, or even at the time of the film's release. But if they wanted to be truly safe, gainfully employed, and able to see their three children, they'd probably want to get the hell out of Wyoming.