Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson to be recognized at Keshet Cabaret Dinner

UPDATED 3/28: With full text of Marc Solomon's speech introducing Evan Wolfson

Tonight, Thursday, March 27, Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson will be honored by Keshet, an LGBT Jewish organization based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Freedom to Marry's National Campaign Director Marc Solomon, who received the very first award from Keshet while he was working as the Executive Director of MassEquality, will present the award to Evan tonight.

Evan will receive the award at Keshet's Cabaret, an annual gala evening of music, comedy, and auction to benefit Keshet’s work for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life.

Evan is being recognized alongside Jennifer Levi, who serves as the director of the Trans Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. 

Marc Solomon delivered this speech as his introduction to Evan at the event:

Im Tirtzu, Ein Zo Agada.

If you will it, it is no dream. So said Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, in 1902, when the idea of a modern Jewish state couldn’t be have been further from the imaginations of nearly every Jew in the world. “Next Year in Jerusalem” was an expression, not an option. But Herzl understood the that with will, determination, one could make the greatest things happen. 

Tonight, I have the honor of presenting Keshet’s award to another powerful visionary whose will-power brought about life-changing results that few thought possible. 31 years ago right here in Boston, Evan Wolfson, then a law student at Harvard, had the gumption to write a thesis entitled "Samesex Marriage and Morality: The Human Rights Vision of the Constitution." Evan had to search hard to even find an adviser who would take his project on.

In it, he laid out a vision and justification for why, under the U.S. constitution, same-sex couples should be able to marry.

“Such a society, where people are equally free to love and choose according to the dictates of their heart, best promotes the just and moral pursuit of happiness.”

Now plenty of people lay out dreams in college and grad school, though admittedly most aren’t nearly that bold. But Evan didn’t simply create a vision. 

He went to work to will it into being. For decades, Evan has debated, argued, cajoled, persuaded, pressed, and come back at people over and over and over, making his case for why gay people should be able to marry. Finally, in the 1990s, serving as co-counsel in a marriage trial in Hawaii, he helped bring about a victory in court. And even though it was taken away by a constitutional amendment, it made so many people see that this vision of gay couples marrying—of themselves marrying—could be a reality.

 In the 2000s, Evan saw that there were enough tremendous attorneys making the case in the court of law. So he created Freedom to Marry, an organization from which he could build the case in the court of public opinion that the attorneys were making in the courtroom.

During the work in Massachusetts, I remember talking to Evan at some of the most difficult times, when we were the only state and our opponents were gunning for us with everything they had. Evan was a voice of resolve, of steadiness, of determination, and of support. He knew that setbacks were a part of a human rights struggle, and that with determination and vision, you could turn setbacks into comebacks. And when we had setbacks nationally and there were powerful movement leaders who wanted to turn away, to settle for civil union, Evan kept his eyes, and the movement’s eyes, on the prize.

Today, we have the freedom to marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia, encompassing 40 percent of the country. Today, a full 59% of Americans support it, up from 27% in the mid-1990s when he was arguing the Hawaii case. Today, same-sex couples can get married in 18 countries on 5 continents, up from zero countries on zero continents in 2000. Today, we are closer than ever to finishing this job in the United States and having marriage nationwide.

Im tirtzu, ein zo agada. If you will it, it is no dream.

On this cause, the cause of the freedom to marry, it’s because Evan had extraordinarily bold vision and then did the hard, sometimes excruciating work over more than 30 years of willing that vision into a reality that we are where we are today.

Thank you, Evan.