Freedom to Marry’s federal program grows with new Respect for Marriage Coalition

In less than a year, Freedom to Marry’s presence in the nation’s capital has expanded exponentially due to the accomplishments of our new federal program, headed by Jo Ellen Deutsch. With the Department of Justice’s decision to end its defense of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, the first-ever hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act, and the subsequent vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the bill to repeal DOMA, we are making tangible progress.

Just eight months after starting our federal program, we’ve made significant progress in increasing  the number of bipartisan marriage supporters on the Hill and are making the case for the freedom to marry to conservatives. We’ve hosted informal salons for both Republican and Democratic influencers to initiate conversations about marriage and enlisted Kathryn Lehman, a Republican lobbyist who now supports the repeal of DOMA after overseeing its passage in the House of Representatives fifteen years ago, to help make the case to Republicans. Many of the over a dozen GOP Congressional offices we’ve visited with our partners at the Log Cabin Republicans have told us they’ve never been approached on our cause before.  And one of them, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), became the first Republican cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act shortly after meeting with us.

In July, Freedom to Marry commissioned a bipartisan analysis of polling data spanning more than a decade to address the shift in public attitudes on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. This analysis of multiple national polls was conducted by Joel Benenson, a pollster for President Obama; and Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for former President George W. Bush. The memo shows that support for marriage has not only grown steadily over the past 13 years, but has strikingly and significantly accelerated in the past two years. This surge is the result of evolving positions among every demographic analyzed in the study, including older Americans and Republicans – groups that have in the past been the least likely to support the freedom to marry. The findings emphasize that endorsing the freedom to marry is not only the right thing to do morally, but it’s the smart thing to do politically.

Additionally, Freedom to Marry has partnered with the Equality Federation to reach statewide LGBT organizations around the nation and successfully advance the cause for marriage on state and local levels. This has included work with Equality Illinois, Equality Maine, and Equality Maryland, to name just a few. Our work with them allows us to engage members of Congress in conversations about the need to extend the freedom to marry to their gay and lesbian constituents and to show why this issue matters to them, their friends, and their families. These combined efforts have brought us to where we are today, with record support for the bill that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Finally, Freedom to Marry’s Federal Director Jo Deutsch is using her experience on the Hill to continue reaching out to new groups. With her extensive past experience as a labor lobbyist, we’ve been able to secure the support of a new demographic that we’ve never worked with before. As a mother of three who has been with her partner, Teresa Williams, for 28 years, Deutsch is in a unique position to speak about the importance of marriage. She is a seasoned veteran on Capitol Hill and has assembled a strong team of lobbyists and communications specialists in the short time she has been with Freedom to Marry thus far.

With federal recognition of the freedom to marry hitting new milestones, our work in Washington, D.C. is only becoming more relevant. Today, Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign announced the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a coalition made up of over 50 diverse groups whose mission is to advance the Respect for Marriage Act and serve as the voice for the freedom to marry in Washington, D.C. The organizations include religious groups, legal organizations, unions, and advocates devoted to a number of other causes. Together, with Freedom to Marry’s Jo Deutsch as a staff leader of the coalition, the groups will work to change the hearts and minds of legislators in Congress, lining up the next round of cosponsors to put us in a position to pass the Respect for Marriage Act as soon as 2013.

Freedom to Marry will continue to make the strongest case for marriage in Washington, D.C. with the Respect for Marriage Coalition and our ever-growing federal program. Click here to read our full press release.