Freedom to Marry’s Top Ten Moments for Marriage in 2011

What a year!  In 2011, Freedom to Marry scored a transformative triumph as we co-founded and co-led the coalition that helped secure the freedom to marry in New York; launched our federal campaign advancing the Respect for Marriage Act (the bill to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, “DOMA”) and building support for marriage in the White House, Congress, and the courts; worked to defend marriage in Iowa and New Hampshire; and joined in teeing up other states while growing national support.  As we gear up for 2012 and our strategies for gaining more ground in the campaign to win marriage nationwide, here’s a look back at Freedom to Marry’s Top Ten Moments for Marriage in 2011:

10. Even the Opposition Agrees: We’ve seen the trend in support for the freedom to marry grow exponentially – and we’re not the only ones watching the hearts and minds change.  In an interview in the June 4, 2011 issue of World Magazine, Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family, a leading funder of anti-gay attacks concentrated on denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry, declared that the opponents of equality are being repudiated by young people and have "probably lost" on marriage, stating: "We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that."   

9. Support for Marriage Grows Worldwide: The movement to win the freedom to marry is a global one. This year we saw great strides in England and Ireland toward marriage, including a commitment by Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative Party, to lead the charge for marriage in the UK. An Australian ad in support of the freedom to marry went viral online with over two million views in under a week, and Australia’s ruling party voted for the freedom to marry, as did key political parties in Germany. And in October, Brazil’s top court ruled that two women could legally marry. There are now 13 countries on 4 continents where same-sex couples can share in the freedom to marry. 

8. First Republican Cosponsors the Respect for Marriage Act: Since being introduced in Congress this year by Rep. Nadler and Senators Feinstein and Gillibrand, we’ve racked up a record number of cosponsors for the Respect for Marriage Act to overturn DOMA, including the first Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whom Freedom to Marry’s lobbyists had engaged earlier in the year along with our Log Cabin Republican colleagues.  Ros-Lehtinen joins a growing number of prominent Republicans to support the freedom to marry, including former chair of the RNC Ken Mehlman, conservative commentator Margaret Hoover, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, and former President Bush’s daughter, Barbara, and wife Laura Bush.   

7. Progress in the Courts:  In June, a California bankruptcy court ruled that DOMA violates the equal-protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution – the third decision in district court to rule that restrictions on marriage are unconstitutional.  The decision in the case, finding “there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA,” was signed – in a rare, if not unprecedented, move – by 20 judges of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California.  The precedent was helpful and hopeful for the numerous challenges to DOMA moving upward, including the case filed in November by SLDN on behalf of married gay and lesbian servicemembers denied the family protections afforded to other members of the military. 

6. Businesses Speak Up for the Freedom to Marry:  In November, leading companies – including Google, Microsoft, and Xerox – filed a brief in GLAD’s (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) DOMA challenge, telling the appeals court that DOMA makes it harder for businesses to do business.  In New York, a who’s who of business leaders, including the heads of top Wall Street firms, spoke out in support of the freedom to marry – alongside labor unions and leaders – while literally no prominent business voices took the other side. 

5. First-Ever Hearings on, and Congressional Vote in Favor of, the Respect for Marriage Act: In July, Freedom to Marry founder and President Evan Wolfson testified for the Respect for Marriage Act at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing along with Ron Wallen, who was denied Social Security survivor benefits when his husband and partner of 58 years passed away this year. During the hearing, Senator Franken deftly called out opponents of the freedom to marry for misrepresenting the data on kids raised by same-sex parents.  The subsequent Committee vote put all the Democrats on record as favoring the overturning of DOMA, and marked a major transformation from past congressional missteps on marriage. 

4. Marriage Is a Winning Cause – Personally and Politically: With a victory in New York and rapidly increasing support for the freedom to marry, we’ve seen (and made the case to opinion-leaders in politics and the media) that the marriage wedge has lost its edge and, in fact, supporters of the freedom to marry now have greater intensity than opponents – a significant turnaround from where we were just a few short years ago.  A bipartisan analysis by leading Democratic and Republican pollsters (pollsters for Presidents Obama and Bush) found that with gains in support across every age group and demographic category, the momentum for marriage continues to grow at a rapid pace, even among those formerly solidly opposed.  

3. The End of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Along with marriage discrimination, military discrimination was the most intolerable kind of discrimination – that inflicted by the government itself.  The end of DADT means that Americans will see women and men serving our country as part of couples and families, with powerful stories.  Among those stories will be the harms imposed on those brave servicemembers and their families because of the federal DOMA. And among those standing up against marriage discrimination will now be the military itself, our nation’s largest employer.  

2. The Obama Administration Declares the So-Called Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional: When the Department of Justice concluded that sexual orientation discrimination must be presumed unconstitutional, not rubberstamped, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder rightly determined that DOMA, passed by Congress in 1996, could no longer be defended.  In challenges to DOMA brought by GLAD, ACLU, Lambda Legal, and others, the U.S. government filed briefs again – this time on the side of the couples and fairness – detailing and repudiating the sorry history of discrimination and exclusion by the government itself.

1. Amid an Ocean of Joy, New York Embraces the Freedom to Marry: When New York became the sixth and largest state to end the exclusion of loving and committed same-sex couples from marriage, the number of Americans living in a state with the freedom to marry more than doubled – to 35 million. For the first time, it was a Republican-led legislative chamber that sealed the deal on the freedom to marry, with Republican senators providing the margin of victory, even as Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo rode his exceptional leadership on marriage and the applause it earned to instant front-runner status for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.   

Personal note: I can’t end the year, and these highlights for marriage, without noting that this year, too, like many loving and committed couples counting on the work of Freedom to Marry, I got to say, “I do.”   Does it feel different?  You bet.  To share our joy with our family and friends meant the world to my husband (!) and me, and even after 10 years together – long engagement! – we are still aglow from our wedding and the love and connectedness we celebrated… why marriage matters.