The Freedom to Marry

Law Dork
February 14, 2009

As Evan Wolfson* and others write and talk and take action as part of National Freedom to Marry Week, I wanted to take a step back this Valentine’s Day to assess where the movement for marriage equality is today. [Link]

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Guest Blogger: Megan Kinninger

Sometimes I feel like my brain has been donated to the marriage equality movement. I’m the human archive, a fact-finder, a researcher, a tracker, of all things concerning marriage equality. My archived subjects include the history of the movement, the current landscape, the players, the supporters, the strategies, and so much more.

I’m fully equipped for cocktail party discussions about which states are working toward equality, Thanksgiving debates over why civil unions are NOT equal to marriage, wedding toasts about why marriage is such an important freedom, and of course, calls from reporters.

So when I get phone calls from reporters, they usually ask for background information. Here’s my cheat sheet, the top 7 answers to reporter’s questions:

  1. 14 states have at least some kind of protections for gay couples: 2 states uphold the freedom to marry for gay couples, 3 honor out-of-state marriages, 4 have civil unions or broad domestic partnership, and 5 have some protections for gay couples.
  2. 2 states have cases pending to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage.
  3. 33% of the American population live in a state with at least some protections for gay couples.
  4. 12 states are introducing marriage equality bills in 2009.
  5. Six in 10 Americans (63%) say the government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can marry the people they choose.
  6. Since 2005, no legislator who voted for a marriage equality bill or against an anti-gay amendment lost re-election because of their vote.
  7. Civil unions or domestic partnerships are NOT equal to marriage and we have the facts to show it here.

But of course the facts about the landscape aren’t enough. It’s exciting to talk about the progress we are making and build momentum for success, but there is clearly so much more to accomplish—only two states actually uphold the freedom to marry for gay couples. So I talk about the need for marriage equality, and the personal stories these numbers represent. How all families deserve the dignity and respect that marriage provides.

These real and personal connections are the news hook for the media, and the best way to talk to friends and family, too. As I always tell my mom, who finds herself debating with friends and family about my need for equality and asks, “How do I really change their mind?” I respond, “Tell them why you want me to be able to get married, how your daughter deserves equality just like everyone else. Make it personal. Make ‘em cry.”

The next time you have a chance to talk to a reporter, or even just a neighbor or a friend, about why marriage equality matters to you, reference my cheat sheet for the facts, and then add your heart, your personal story, and don’t be afraid to make ‘em cry.

*** Megan Kinninger is program manager at Freedom to Marry and native of Watsonville, California.

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TALKING TO THE MEDIA: Radio Shows Hosts & Marriage

Guest Blogger: James Hipps

There is a great deal of information and misinformation floating around these days about same-sex marriage. The Internet has been a key medium in the dissemination of facts and opinions on the many facets of this “hot topic”, which include, but are not limited to civil rights, equality, inclusion, religious beliefs, etc. There has also been a great deal of coverage on the television, in the newspapers and on the radio. All of these forms of communication have played an important role in the struggle for and against same-sex marriage. They have attributed to successes and failures, regardless of the side you have taken.

So, what does this mean to you? Chances are, if you’re reading this, its because you believe in equality. Many of us are making contributions towards equality, and many of us aren’t aware of the impact we have. Many feel they would like to become involved, but perhaps are not sure how. Some may feel if they do, it will not make a difference. Please rest assured, all involvement, at any level makes a difference. No matter how minute a single contribution may seem, in the end, it is helping to build a grand effort.

I would like to take this opportunity to address another concern of involvement. There is a population of people who would like to make a difference, but still fear negative impacts may occur if they do. When it is still legal in 33 states to be fired for being lesbian or gay, this unfortunately can be a very real fear. However, one of the best ways to make a difference, without worrying about disclosing your identity is speaking to the media. We all have a voice, and our voices must be heard. Dialogue is going to be key in achieving marriage equality. It is up to us to dispel the lies and misinformation that is being distributed by all forms of the media.

One of the best ways to let your voice be heard without taking the risk of being exposed is writing. Today, practically all radio and TV stations, newspapers, local officials and congressmen alike have websites and email. In many instances, especially with newspaper, television and radio sites, you can submit your opinion without revealing your identity.

Please take the time to write in to theses sites with your opinions and supporting facts. Believe it or not, even the sites that represent those who stand against same-sex marriage will typically print what you have written.

What is the importance of this? For starters, it tells those opposed there are people who don’t agree with them. It is important for us to speak rationally about these issues and not be afraid to address those with differing views. Respectfully standing up for what you believe, even if it doesn’t change a person mind, will at least reinforce that not all agree. Also, there are those who have not decided which side of the fence they are on with this issue. If one of those people happens to come across a site that is against gay marriage, but read an opposing view that is clear and factual, it just may sway them to become a supporter. You never know who is reading or where they stand. Silence in this situation gains nothing.

In your quest to support, you may run across a situation where responding to someone’s opinion sparks a heated retaliation. If this happens, maintain your composure. If someone you address becomes upset or irate, and you do not, they will not only appear irrational, but loose accreditation. Always maintain the upper hand by staying calm and rational. People are much more likely to listen, and believe you if you do. Again, it is important to keep in mind that it may not be the opinion of the person you’re addressing whose mind you’re going to change.

Regardless of how you do it, now is the time to speak. There is a great deal of attention being paid to this issue and your voice is important, so please let it be heard. Contact the media and voice your thoughts. They are needed now more than ever.

A simple message to give all in opposition of equality: Whether you know it or not, someone you love is gay. Whether you know them or not, someone gay is fighting for rights from which we will all benefit.

***James Hipps is editor for

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TALKING TO MEDIA: Freedom of Speech, the Press, and to Marry

Guest Blogger: Andrea Shorter

The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
-- Finley Peter Dunne aka Mr. Dooley

And Marriage For All (AM4A) is a public education campaign that works to reach out to and educate African American communities in Northern California on the importance of the freedom to marry for same sex couples. A collaborative project of two civil and human rights organizations, And Castro for All and the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, AM4A also works with allies like GLAAD to help couples, parents and family members of same sex couples, clergy, friends, neighbors, and co-workers share their stories through press and media in pursuit of marriage equality.

The portrayal of LGBT people in mainstream media has often been complicated. Most often least of all comforting to an often afflicted group.

While media portraits and press accounts of same gender loving people and their relationships have thankfully evolved in recent times, telling our stories in a way that more accurately reflects the truer diversity, complexities and aspirations of our day to day lives, communities and families can seem daunting and challenging for some. Telling our stories helps to push past stereotypes, sensationalized portraits or misperceptions about what it means to be engaged in loving, committed same sex relationships.

The marriage between the freedom of speech, the press, and marriage equality can prove a most engaging affair for anyone interested in being heard.

Sharing our stories is essential to any liberation movement. As we celebrate African American history month, we are especially reminded of this fundamental truth. Without exception, this also applies to the pursuit of civil marriage and marriage equality.

With the scope of press and media outlets rapidly expanding beyond newsprint, publications, television, and radio and into numerous internet media including independent blogs, posting boards such as You Tube, and numerous social networks such as Facebook allows for greater and creative opportunities to directly write, video, or even rap (yes, rap) to a potentially large audience about the right to marry. Clearly, this accessibility is quickly revolutionizing the ways in which we relate to and interact with media:

we are no longer mostly passive consumers but can be empowered creators of media.

After all, in today’s media rich environment – for better or worse -- anyone can produce and generate ones own media and mobilize critical mass from the click of a button or flick of a finger across the acrylic touch sensitive screen of their favorite wireless PDA. Our individual and collective abilities to impact and frame the debate on marriage equality is remarkable.

Telling Your Story

Whether you are in a loving, committed relationship, seeking a loving, committed relationship, the parent, sister, brother, auntie, uncle, neighbor, co-worker, or friend of an LGBT person or same sex couple, telling your story is one of the most supportive and empowering acts towards achieving equality for all.

In addition to hosting forums, panel discussions at churches, providing communications and media trainings to couples, supportive family, and organizers, we also sponsored creative ways in which to engage people in the dialogue and to tell their stories such as hosting blogging parties and creating a web community.

And, not to worry: you don’t have to write a paper back novel or sociology thesis to tell your story. Short, sweet and simple stories or statements of just a few words, one or two sentences, or one paragraph can have a great impact. In fact, those are often the most memorable and powerful.

Some of my favorite blog entries to AM4A and other outlets – all of which could easily be simple letters to the editor:

Everyone should have the same opportunity to marry whomever he or she wants. This is America!

Everyone should get to decide whom they love. The Government’s job is to treat people equally.
- Dania

I support marriage equality for all because I love my niece and her partner, and they deserve all the same rights as anybody else. They work hard, they pay their taxes, they vote. They love each other. We love them.

Setting the Record Straight (as it were)

As a campaign primarily dedicated to advancing the dialogue about marriage equality among African Americans, AM4A became particularly engaged in the commentary about the role of media in the aftermath of the recent passage of a statewide initiative to take away the civil rights of same sex couples to marry in California.

The early but widely reported accounts of African Americans having allegedly voted – 70% -- in favor of denying same sex couples the right to marry caused a national stir and a statewide firestorm that became an overnight focal point of curiosity, confusion, and blame for the loss of the constitutional right to marry. Months before a single Californian cast a vote, speculation about the impact of the Black vote on LGBT right to marry during the heaviest Black voter turnout in history for the first Black President of the United States was beginning to shape the narrative that eventually played out following a spectacular, historical election night.

In what became the makings of a perfect media storm, AM4A was approached by media regarding the African American voters response to the freedom to marry. As people of color who are also LGBT, we found ourselves in a critical space for challenging press reports in a rare historical moment.

We sought to stay on point that many African Americans value marriage equality as a civil right. Additionally, we worked to reframe the debate by pointing out what the media were failing to report:

- The African American community is not a monolithic experience. Many African Americans across the state and nation were very disappointed, frustrated, and angered at the outcome of the vote to take away same sex couples right to marry and its impact on their family members, friends, and fellow citizens.

- Numerous Black clergy, elected officials, and allied organizations such as the CA NAACP stood firmly for the civil rights of same sex marriage couples to marry, and waged to defeat what the then President-elect described as a “divisive and unjust proposition.”

- Homophobia in the African American community is not disproportionately greater than any other racialized community.

- Exit polls are not conclusive, and certainly not gospel truth. We should resist the use of exit polls to create the idea of a wedge or division between African Americans and LGBT people.

- Being Black or LGBT are not wholly antithetical experiences: there are Black LGBT people such as myself who are deeply committed to continuing the fight for civil and human rights in the legacy of champions like Bayard Rustin.

Even with the recent release of research by David Binder and Associates, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, that finds that Blacks voted between 56-58% for the proposition — comparatively proportionate to other demographics voting in favor of the propositions passage, i.e., Latinos — reports continue to refer to the 70% figure as fact.

Towards the end of telling our stories, AM4A will continue to set the record straight (as it were), help others to tell theirs, and further reach out and educate our diverse communities about the importance of marriage for all.

After all, if we don’t tell our stories, who will?

Andrea Shorter is the Director of And Marriage For All, a San Francisco-based public campaign building coalitions between African American and LGBT communities.

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TALKING TO NEIGHBORS: A New Jersey Couple Wants to Marry

Guest Blogger: Richard Ledesma

So here it is Freedom to Marry Week…neighbor.

We are Richard and Jeffrey, two men in a loving committed relationship since September 6, 2002. We have two dogs, a nice apartment in New Jersey, a car with monthly insurance payments. We have electric, gas, cable, and cell phone bills. We shop at our local supermarket and visit the same doctor for the past three years. We recycle, clean our sidewalk, and respect our environment. We maintain diverse full time jobs and pay our taxes. We have suffered the death of both of our mothers and one of our fathers in the past couple of years.

We are just like you and your spouse except for one thing. Richard and Jeffrey cannot marry. We are not entitled to bereavement leave from work if our partner dies. We are not entitled to draw the Social Security of the deceased partner, or to automatically inherit a shared home, assets, or personal items in the absence of a will. We are not covered by laws and policies that permit people to take medical leave to care for a sick spouse or for the kids. We are not considered next of kin for the purposes of hospital visitation and emergency medical decisions. We cannot file joint tax returns and are excluded from tax benefits and claims specific to marriage. In addition, we are denied the right to transfer property to one another and pool the family's resources without adverse tax consequences. Richard and Jeffrey are not entitled, covered, or considered on alot of things that you are…

What we do have are neighbors that only see Richard and Jeffrey, two men in a loving committed relationship.

Richard and Jeffrey are your neighbors but cannot marry. Why, I thought we were just like you.

***Richard Ledesma is the Office Manager at Freedom To Marry. Jeffrey Thomas-Ledesma is a Hyperbaric and Wound Care Technician at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. They live in New Jersey and are originally from Miami, FL and Ft. Payne, AL respectively.

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TALKING TO NEIGHBORS: Taking the Conversation Next Door

Guest Blogger: Amy Balliet
(Photo: Jessica and Amy on their wedding day)

The Bible tells us to “Love thy Neighbor as you would love thyself.” This clichéd phrase has been used for better or for worse throughout history, and is used quite often in the movement for LGBTQ equality. Often, when religion is used against me, for example, I reply with “whatever happened to ‘love thy neighbor as you would thyself?’” Generally, when I ask this question, I do not always receive the best reception. Still, it is a question that I can’t help but ponder, and one that had its harshest reality when I was 20 years old and found myself living across the street from a neo-Nazi in Cleveland, Ohio.

As people who are LGBTQ, we have to come out on a daily basis in one way or another. Sometimes, coming out can take so much emotional energy that we put it off. Hell, the other day someone called me a “professional gay,” yet it is still taxing for me to come out at times. What few of us realize is that one of the greatest things that we can do for this movement is exactly what we do every day: Come out. It’s much easier for someone to discriminate against us, when they believe that they do not know one of us. Your cubicle partner, for example, could be someone that you laugh with everyday, go on coffee breaks with, and eat lunch with. This person, in your mind, is perfectly fine with gay people, but you wouldn’t know for certain since you never came out to them. This person could be perfectly fine with you, but think that gay people are scum, since, in their mind, nobody has come along to prove them wrong. In other words, ignorance is bliss, except when it leads to one of the many “isms” or phobias that engender discrimination. Though I had been told this by many people in my life, I was unwilling to believe that coming out would do anything positive for myself or Mr. Swastika across the street.

It wasn’t until the morning that my car wouldn’t start, that things changed. It was an early winter morning and my car was making noises that could only be described as a wombat screwing an owl. It managed to wake the neighborhood up, including the neighbor that I had managed to avoid for 6 months. While cursing at my car, a knock on my side window startled me. I saw the swastika wrapped around his neck and cringed. He was there with a toolbox and a portable heater. He asked me to pop the hood of my car and proceeded to work on it. I stayed in my car with my doors locked. A few minutes of banging and clinging later, and my car was up and running. I drove off without looking up at the guy or thanking him.

When I got home from work that night, he was sitting on my front porch waiting for me. I clenched my keys in my fist and was, let’s just say, less than thrilled to see him. He introduced himself as Nathan, put his hand out for me to shake it, and I just stared at it. This was when possibly the biggest surprise of my entire life came. He said “I know you’re gay. I know you see my tattoos and your scared. I wanted to come and apologize to you for any fear you may have living next to me.” As it turns out, I didn’t have to come out to him, instead, he was coming out to me… as an ex skinhead. He told me that he was an angry kid who needed someone to blame. He had no excuse for his actions, and could only work to spend the rest of his life making up for his ignorance. He was working two full-time jobs to get the money to remove his tattoos and purposely moved into the “gayborhood” (my words not his) so that he could volunteer with LGBTQ youth who were learning how to deal with homophobia.

So what changed him, you ask? Well, if that isn’t your first question I can tell you that it was mine. He changed when his childhood friend, Greg, came out to him; when he realized that his best friend, his neighbor growing up, was gay. Nathan struggled with it at first, but the man that he viewed as his brother, was gay, and Nathan’s “isms” and phobias were blown out of the water.

When people ask me why I think that the conversation of equality will win this movement, I think of Nathan. If someone can go so far as to brand their body with hate, yet wake up one day to find a reason to love, then there is an obscene amount of hope that I have for our movement. The civil rights that we are fighting for will not be won lying down. We need the Gregs of this world to talk to the Nathans. We all need to come out and be visible. Those who oppose us are banking on the fact that we will remain invisible. If we aren’t out there to disprove the stereotypes and scare tactics that they are pushing, then they will win.

Coming out is not simple, but it is a statement that can change minds and build bridges in ways that will draw this movement to a successful end. Nathan’s love of his neighbor changed him. My stereotypes of my neighbor, kept me from speaking with him. When my neighbor, came out to me, my “isms” and phobias were blown out of the water.

Amy Balliett is the co-founder and co-executive director of Join the Impact, a non-profit organization working for full LGBTQ equality. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Amy is currently living in Seattle, WA working as a search engine marketer as her day job, and Join the Impact during every other spare moment.

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Gay Couples Protest at Marriage Bureaus Across US

Associated Press
February 13, 2009
As part of the annual Freedom to Marry Week events, gay couples gathered at marriage bureaus around the nation yesterday seeking marriage licenses in the 48 states that will not grant them to same-sex couples. [Link]

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TALKING TO NEIGHBORS: A Mormon Calls for Compassion

Guest Blogger: Ross "Rocky" Anderson

I was raised in Logan, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, Utah, as an active member of the LDS Church. I gained so much of great value from all the years in Primary, Mutual, and the priesthood quorums. From that association, as well as the great example of my parents and wonderful teachers along the way, I learned many positive lessons that have formed the foundation of my life.

I learned that we should all love and care for each other--that we are all brothers and sisters and should treat each other accordingly. I learned that perhaps our highest calling is to help those who are in need and to be compassionate and kind toward those who are faced with difficult challenges. I learned, generally, that hatred, prejudice, and meanness toward others should be rejected in favor of love, inclusiveness, and kindness.

Those seemed to be the fundamental moral messages from my church.

However, I learned other, very different, lessons as a young Mormon boy. I learned that discrimination against African Americans, including their exclusion from the priesthood and their exclusion from worshipping in LDS temples, was compelled by God because their skin color was the mark of Cain as a result of their wrongdoing in an earlier life. I even learned that Brigham Young maintained that slavery was an institution ordained by God, that a white person who “mixed his seed” with a “Negro” should be killed, and that African Americans were not to be treated as brute animals, but were to be treated as the servants of servants.

I learned that we were not to question religious or civil authority. I recall once hearing someone say from the lectern in my ward that, according to the Twelfth Article of Faith, we are to unquestioningly follow the directives of leaders, including military commanders, and that if the directives are immoral, those giving them, not those who follow them, will be held responsible on judgment day. Even as a young boy, I recall being appalled at that call for individual moral abrogation. The idea that we are all to fall in line when ordered, even when doing so harms others, is abhorrent, dangerous, and contrary to the most fundamental lessons taught by Jesus and other major religious leaders.

Until 1967, antimiscegenation laws in many states prohibited interracial marriages. An African American and a white, like Barack Obama’s parents, could not marry each other under those laws. Society advanced, and the laws caught up with those advances. In 1978, the president of the LDS Church said he had a revelation from God that the exclusion of blacks from the LDS priesthood was to be lifted.

I learned another thing as a young boy: I was taught that gays and lesbians--they were called “homosexuals” in those days--were inferior people engaged in perverse wrongdoing. It was common for many people to use derogatory terms like “homo,” “queer,” or “faggot.”

Since then, I have learned to liberate myself from those bigotries. I have learned that I can grow--and that, as I do, not only do I treat others better but I also become a better person myself. My life is enriched as I learn about others who are different from me and as I learn to value, not just tolerate, those differences.

I know many gay and lesbian people who have married. In fact, I recently attended a wedding reception for two men, Idaho farmers, who were married in California. They have been together, committed to each other, loving each other, for thirty years. So many of the gay and lesbian couples I have known are loving and committed, and have demonstrated a remarkable stability in their relationships--a stability that has so far eluded me in my relationships. These good people, and those who love them, are hurt every day of their lives when they are treated under the law as second-class citizens and as they face the sort of prejudice, discrimination, and hatred generated by such measures as Utah’s Amendment 3 and California’s Proposition 8.

The LDS Church is repeating a tragic and deplorable history through its vast involvement in the passage of Proposition 8--except that the bigotry and discrimination is now being directed not at African Americans but toward gays and lesbians. It is an outrage--and it is an occasion of great sadness for the LDS Church, for its members who are once again being, and allowing themselves to be, led astray, and for those who are victims of the hurtful judgments of those who think they are somehow superior to their gay brothers and lesbian sisters.

Let us all call for greater love, better understanding, and dignity and respect toward all, regardless of race, regardless of faith or lack of faith, and regardless of sexual orientation. Let us all follow, rather than just talk about, the Golden Rule. Let us move beyond the false and hollow judgments that result in such pain, even to the point of suicide, for many LDS youth. And let us embrace each other as brothers and sisters and rid ourselves of the pernicious distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation that, with tragic consequences, have been drawn in the law and in so many hearts.

Just as racial discrimination is now forbidden in the United States, and just as antimiscegenation laws are now nothing more than a shameful part of our nation’s history, we will celebrate full marriage equality some day. We have come so far in just a few years, particularly because most young people do not carry with them the burden of bigotry as I did, and as did so many of my generation. There will be obstacles, but reason, fairness, and a higher morality will prevail--if we join together in demanding it.

Let us all keep up the proud fight--the fight for fundamental fairness, the fight for compassion, the fight for love.

Rocky Anderson is founder & director of High Road for Human Rights in Salt Lake City, Utah and a member of Freedom to Marry’s Voices of Equality. Rocky is also a former mayor of Salt Lake City.

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