By Evan: Writings

Momentum 2012: The Freedom to Marry

Tides: Momentum Magazine

Evan Wolfson writes for this quarterly publication’s “LGBT in America” issue about the most recent developments in the campaign to win marriage nationwide. With a half dozen court cases ruling that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, President Barack Obama saying he supports marriage for all couples, and four marriage-related ballot initiatives on the horizon, it’s been a big year for the freedom to marry. He writes: “We have the winning formula and we’ve got momentum… but victory will come only if we seize the moment.  For 2012, that means continuing to win more states, winning at the ballot, and winning more hearts and minds.  The President, the NAACP, the American Medical Association, mayors, business and labor leaders, clergy, and a majority of Americans are now marching with us on Freedom to Marry’s Roadmap to Victory.  It’s up to us now, to keep the pace and overcome the barriers, as we bring the country home.”

A Presidential Endorsement

The Record

Evan Wolfson writes in a newspaper specifically for New Jersey residents about why he supports President Barack Obama and why his embrace of the freedom to marry signals big things for the movement and encouraging developments for President Obama and his supporters. Wolfson writes: “Obama made the case, and now it’s up to families in New Jersey, gay couples and their loved ones, non-gay people committed to fairness and a stronger state for all, and, in fact, all of us who believe in treating others as we would want to be treated, to finish the job here in the Garden State, overriding the veto and bringing the freedom to marry to New Jersey.”

Obama Showed Moral Leadership with Gay Marriage Support

U.S. News & World Report

Evan Wolfson participates in U.S. News & World Report’s debate on whether it was a good idea for President Barack Obama to say that he supports the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. He argues: “President Obama has done what we elect presidents to do, showing moral leadership and speaking from the heart. History vindicates presidents who lead, much as it records America’s progress toward liberty and justice for all.”

The Anti-Gay Base is Shrinking

The New York Times

Evan Wolfson participates in a writers’ debate in the opinion pages of The New York Times over whether it is still controversial for politicians to support gay rights. He writes: “As they look past a dwindling anti-gay slice of their base, smart Republicans know they need to get in step with their own professed values – freedom, responsibility, small government – not to mention America’s majority for marriage. Meanwhile, Freedom to Marry’s call on the president and the Democratic Party to embrace a “freedom to marry” platform plank has won support from numerous party leaders, elected officials and tens of thousands of Democrats online. Candidates who support the freedom to marry have lots to gain, and little to lose, benefiting from enthusiasm, donations and votes. The wedge has lost its edge: 2012 is not 1996 or even 2004. Supporting the freedom to marry is not just the right thing, but, happily, the right thing politically.”

Without Nationwide Gay Marriage, U.S. Government Discriminates

U.S. News & World Report

Evan Wolfson participates in U.S. News & World Report’s “Debate Club” about whether the freedom to marry should be legal nationwide. He argues: “America should not be a house divided in which couples and those they deal with, including employers, are forced to play “now you’re married, now you’re not.” In the United States, we don’t have second-class citizens, and we shouldn’t have second-class marriages. It’s time to follow the Golden Rule—treating others as you want to be treated—and the Constitution, which commands equal justice for all, and end marriage discrimination nationwide.” His argument won first place in the user-decided debate.

Freedom to marry’s changed political equation

The Hill's Congress Blog

Evan Wolfson writes about how senators and representatives who supported the passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of legal marriages between same-sex couples, are changing their viewpoints and ushering in a new era of legislators who support marriage for all couples. He writes: “That change of heart on Capitol Hill is reflective of the journey the majority of Americans have made as minds have changed and hearts have opened. Fifteen years ago, only 27 percent of Americans approved of ending discrimination in marriage. Today, six national polls confirm that support has doubled to 53%, a national majority in favor of the freedom to marry. ... The freedom to marry reflects basic values of love, commitment, family, and fairness—and that’s what has inspired a majority of Americans and their elected representatives to decide to support it. And, happily, support for the freedom to marry is not only the right thing to do, it’s the politically smart thing to do.”

Testimony Before the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate July 20, 2011

Evan Wolfson

Written Testimony of Evan Wolfson, Founder and President, Freedom to Marry before the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate for the hearing on S. 598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assessing the Impact of on American Families on July 20, 2011

What We Can Learn from Illinois

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson charts the progress that the passage of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protections and Civil Unions Act signals. Wolfson notes that just ten years ago, there were almost zero jurisdictions that provide some measure of respect to same-sex couples — today that number is close to 40 percent. While civil union is a welcome step, Wolfson states that it is no substitute for marriage because it does not adequately protect same-sex couples. He concludes by calling for the end of marriage exclusion now.

Time for Government to Show All Families Deserve Protection

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson writes on the importance of marriage to families — all families. Using analysis of U.S. Census data by the Williams Institute that the South is home to more same-sex couples than any other region in the United States, Wolfson notes that such couples are diverse economically, racially and geographically. Wolfson is concerned that discrimination at the state level, as well as federally through the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” has left these families vulnerable. Wolfson concludes that federal, state and local governments should not be putting obstacles in the paths of these families.

Economist Debate: Single-sex marriage

The Economist

Evan Wolfson engaged in an Economist online debate with Maggie Gallagher of the “National Organization for Marriage” (NOM). The debate was whether marriage for same-sex couples should be legal. Throughout the debate, Wolfson made his case by detailing the families affected by marriage discrimination, pointing to prominent Americans who have made the journey from opposition to support for the freedom to marry, noting that literally every professional authority is in support of marriage for same-sex couples, citing polling that shows a majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry and deconstructing the opposition’s bait-and-switch arguments.

Freedom to Marry’s Top 10 Moments for Marriage in 2010

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson analyzes the Top 10 “Moments for Marriage” in 2010, including Illinois’ Civil Union law, victory in federal challenges to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” and the No. 1 moment, two polls finding for the first time majority support for the freedom to marry.

The Message From Iowa


Evan Wolfson asserts that the freedom to marry remains intact in Iowa and that every poll leading up to the November 2010 judicial retention vote, showed that Iowa voters have accepted the constitutional command of equality unanimously upheld by their state supreme court in 2009 and ranked overturning it at the bottom of a range of concerns on their minds. Wolfson also discusses the insidious tactics employed by anti-gay groups during the election cycle, which are “willing to lay waste to our courts and our most cherished American principles in order to get their way and punish same-sex couples.”

Open Letter - Maggie Gallagher: Face It, Discrimination Has Consequences

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson writes an open letter to Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage. Gallagher wrote a column in the New York Post trying to deny culpability in creating a climate that marginalizes LGBT Americans in the aftermath of a string of LGBT suicides in October 2010. Wolfson argues that through Gallagher’s words, actions and opposition to non-discrimination laws, she fosters an anti-gay climate that contributes to the sense of isolation felt by some LGBT youth.

Seizing the moment

The Record (NJ)

Evan Wolfson responds to the recent spate of suicides among LGBT youth as a result of anti-gay bullying and highlights the negative consequences that anti-gay prejudice and state-sponsored discrimination, such as the denial of marriage for same-sex couples, have for LGBT youth. Wolfson also challenges anti-gay leaders such as Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage to take responsibility for their role in fostering anti-gay attitudes in order to push their own political agenda.

National Organization for Marriage, What Are You Hiding?

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson writes, “NOM’s strategy to subvert campaign-finance disclosure and clean election laws is to unleash a wave of controversial lawsuits. Putting aside the irony of NOM turning to the courts to strike down laws that ensure a fair and clean election, given its pattern of complaining about so-called “activist” courts whenever judges strike down discrimination, NOM just doesn’t want to play by the rules.”

After Historic Prop 8 Ruling, What’s Next for the Freedom to Marry

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson discusses U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s authoritative and sweeping ruling striking down California’s infamous Proposition 8 and how to harness the momentum generated by Walker’s ruling to end marriage discrimination.

After the Summer FOR Marriage, What’s Next for Marriage Equality

NOM Exposed

Evan Wolfson’s op-ed on behalf of Freedom to Marry marks the launch of the, discussing the success of Freedom to Marry’s “Summer for Marriage” campaign. The campaign was a response to the so-called “National Organization for Marriage’s” summer tour. Wolfson analyzes the extreme statements that surfaced during NOM’s tour and shares why Freedom to Marry’s tour outdrew NOM’s by 3 to 1.

Freedom to Marry to NOM: This is What a Summer For Marriage Really Looks Like

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson discusses Freedom to Marry’s response to the “National Organization for Marriage’s” (NOM) anti-gay summer bus tour. Challenging NOM’s distortions and discriminatory agenda, Wolfson asserts, “They have no real arguments, and their numbers are dwindling. So let NOM bus around, trying to market drummed-up ‘testimonials’ and concoct media stunts to drape themselves in manipulative victimhood — all in their familiar effort to distract from the reality that when committed couples join in marriage, families are helped and no one is hurt.”

In Love and War, Honoring the Commitment of Gay Americans

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson applauds the House of Representatives’ bipartisan vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and end military discrimination, but contends that equal respect and treatment under the law for lesbian and gay Americans can only come with the repeal of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” Woflson writes, “Military service, like marriage, has long been considered a defining element of citizenship and full participation in society. And military discrimination, like exclusion from marriage, is one of the cruelest and most unfair ways in which gay Americans endure inequality at the hands of their own government.”

Losing the Argument Over Marriage, Anti-Gay Forces Pound the Table

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson discusses California’s Prop 8 trial and the anti-gay attorneys’ paltry defense of the discriminatory measure during the court proceedings. Wolfson condemns Prop. 8 proponents resulting “pound the table” strategy, noting “It’s time to stop the table-pounding and allow Americans a conversation about the freedom to marry rooted in evidence, reason, and fairness. The diversion strategy of the anti-gay campaigners should not obscure the real truth of the matter: The reason smart lawyers like Charles Cooper don’t give a better answer to why marriage discrimination should be allowed to continue is that there isn’t one.”

NY Times Letter to the Editor by Evan Wolfson

New York Times

Evan Wolfson writes to the editor, “The pivotal exchange in one of the lawsuits now challenging the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage shows that the opponents of gay people’s freedom to marry still can’t give a real answer to the key question posed in yet another court by yet another judge: “What would be the harm of permitting gay men and lesbians to marry?”... The reason smart lawyers like Mr. Cooper don’t give a better answer to why marriage discrimination should be allowed to continue is that there isn’t one.”

Respect for Marriage Act Introduced in Congress: Time to Dump “DOMA”

The Huffington Post

“Upon introduction in Congress of a bill to overturn the discriminatory so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” Evan Wolfson writes, “the Respect for Marriage Act would fix a grievous wrong that plays out every day in concrete injuries.”

Freedom to Marry in the Supreme Court: How to Make the Timing Right

New York Times Room for Debate Blog

In response to the question, “Is this the right time to go to a conservative Supreme Court [with the freedom to marry]?” Evan Wolfson writes:“The best way to maximize the chances for a just ruling by the court is not just by hiring good lawyers, writing smart briefs, or, even, being right. What’s needed is creating the climate that enables justices to do the right thing.”

Call to Action in California – How to Win Marriage Back

Straight Talk on Marriage Blog

Evan Wolfson writes, “As someone 100% committed to winning the freedom to marry nationwide as soon as possible, I am very excited by Equality California’s report on the work already underway to restore the freedom to marry in California in 2012. To win marriage back, we have a lot to do, using every precious day between now and the election. EQCA’s roadmap to victory in 2012 offers everyone committed to winning marriage back a chance to pull together and tackle the tasks without wasting a moment.”

Advancing the Freedom to Marry in America

American Bar Association's Human Rights Magazine Summer 2009 Edition

As the nation celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, leading advocates, Mary L. Bonauto and Evan Wolfson, examine how the freedom to marry movement began; what work and events have shaped its progress, especially in the last year; and action steps for future progress.

Winning the Freedom to Marry? Cue the Attack on the Gays!

The Huffington Post

“The millions of dollars that NOM and its backers threaten to spend fostering yet another cultural and political war against gay people and threatening civil rights protections would be better spent addressing the real problems facing all our families today. What’s truly scary is they don’t seem to be feeling that love.”

Vermont continues Iowa’s freedom to marry momentum

Google News Comments

Evan Wolfson writes, “By affirming that ‘marriage makes a word of difference’, Vermont sent a message to the California Supreme Court, now weighing whether to uphold Prop 8 and its temporary removal of the freedom to marry in favor of separate partnership for gay couples, and to the legislatures in New Hampshire and New Jersey, each considering bills to end exclusion from marriage in place of the separate-and-unequal civil unions to which same-sex couples are now relegated.”

Iowa Shows Freedom to Marry’s Time Has Come and Place is Everywhere

Google News Comments

Evan Wolfson writes, “Elected officials and judges should follow the Iowa court’s unanimous lead—equal protection means equal, and all should share that equality in the precious freedom to marry. And all of us can help them do their job by doing ours—speaking out now to the people in our lives who need to hear from us, explaining why marriage matters and helping them push past their discomfort and rising to fairness.”

Will the California Supreme Court Strike Down Prop 8, or “Willy-Nilly Disregard” Its Duty?

The Huffington Post

In a message to the California Supreme Court, now weighing a set of challenges to Prop 8, Evan Wolfson cautions the Court against a ruling that would not only go against “the bedrock principle of American constitutional government,” but would also minimize its historic 2008 decision in Marriage Cases, which set forth such truths as “the fundamental nature of the freedom to marry [and], the way in which exclusion from marriage itself denies equality and imposes the stigma of second-class citizenship.”

States are talking about marriage equality. Are you?

Google News Comments

Evan Wolfson writes, “With legislatures, courts, and even the electorate weighing the need to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage, there is greater opportunity, and greater urgency, for each one of us to promote conversations about why marriage equality matters. The more people talk to others, the more they come to see there is no good reason to deny couples who’ve made a personal commitment in life, the equal commitment under law that is marriage.”

Can Marriage Equality Be Compromised?


Evan Wolfson writes, “The core of the real opposition we face is not really about marriage—it’s about gay. The same forces against our freedom to marry are also against its products, which include civil union and partnership. We will never give enough ground to appease them, nor should we… Why surrender the moral high ground we are successfully claiming—with principle, persuasion, patience, and persistence—for an illusory common ground when, as witness the most recent and vociferous rejection of even civil unions and any such half-measure by the so-called moderate new chair of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, this is a nonstarter.”

Marriage and Gays: What Would Lincoln Do?

The Huffington Post

“As Lincoln’s words and actions skillfully paved the way for America’s ‘new birth of freedom,’ he returned again and again to the Declaration of Independence’s promise that ‘all should have an equal chance.’ Lincoln didn’t expect that promise to waft in by itself, or solely on the work of others. He led.”

Bishop Robinson’s moral witness lights the way for Obama’s presidency and policies

Google News Comments

Evan Wolfson writes, “When he stands before Abraham Lincoln’s statue to mark a new presidency, Bishop Robinson will provide President-elect Obama, and the nation and world, a lesson in values to light the way forward. Prayer must then be matched by policy.”

Pro-Marriage Legislators Win Elections (pdf)

Freedom To Marry

Contrary to some political expectations, this report proves voting to support the freedom to marry and opposing anti-marriage measures helps rather than hurts politicians.

The More, The Better

Google News Comment

In his 1963 book, Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King reminded us that, “It is an axiom of social change that no revolution can take place without a methodology suited to the circumstances of the period.” He wrote, “Direct action [such as peaceful protests and grassroots mobilization] is not a substitute for work in the courts and the halls of government… Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another; when skillfully employed, each becomes more effective.”

Leaders of established organizations who resist welcoming new energy, new creativity, new involvement make a mistake. We need more people speaking to more people; as I’ve written in my book, Why Marriage Matters, and elsewhere, it is conversations—person to person, group to group—over time that creates the needed climate for true social and legal change for justice.

Likewise, people now stepping up to, or stepping up their, involvement make a mistake if they don’t work to connect their engagement to the tasks that will result in the legal change sought. We need more people to break the silence and make the case, not just with the most hard-core opponents but with friendly people and even our own as well as the reachable-but-not-yet-reached. And we need to connect those conversations and the change in hearts and minds they bring to the actual ways in which law changes. When all is said and done, for instance, there are only two ways to undo Proposition 8 and restore the freedom to marry in California: creating a climate that enables the California Supreme Court to do the right thing and strike it down, or continuing to build public support in order to prevail on a new ballot measure, perhaps in 2010 or 2012. Meanwhile, non-gay and gay people can have these important conversations about who gay people are and why marriage matters in all 50 states, and win the freedom to marry in several other states that are now poised to end discrimination.

Those truly committed to change, whether through “new” methodologies or “old,” will shed complacency or negativity and do their parts—and find ways to work together to bring that change sooner. All of Dr. King’s “methodologies of social change” remain as needed and relevant today; what we need is not just “new,” it’s more.

Letter to the Editor: Do Not Deny a Minority the Right to Marry

The New York Times

Evan Wolfson writes, “Imagine what our country would look like today had the opponents of equality been able to cement into the Constitution the prejudices of the majority and the passions of the moment. Our president-elect—the son of a couple who would have been barred from marriage because of ‘tradition,’ religious opposition and the majority’s discomfort—might have had a very different life.”

Letters to President-elect Obama: Evan Wolfson

The Advocate

For the for the December 16 issue of Advocate, Evan Wolfson writes, “Discrimination based on sexual orientation, particularly government denial of fundamental rights such as the freedom to marry, is not a gay problem. It is an American problem. And the cause of equal rights for all must always hold a preeminent claim on any president.”

Next Steps in California and the Country to End Discrimination in Marriage

Freedom To Marry

Peaceful protest is an important and time-honored way of raising understanding and mobilizing people to action. Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington, brought the method of non-violent witness and demonstration to Dr. King, giving Americans a chapter in history that inspires us all.  Bayard Rustin was African American—and gay.

In pushing Prop 8 to take away a fundamental right from a targeted group, opponents of equality deliberately chose not to follow the rules for changing the constitution in such a grave and profound way. As Gov. Schwarzenegger said, joined by the African American and Latino leaders in the state legislature, the court should strike it down as an abuse of the political process.  Beyond “just” gay people, beyond “just” marriage, allowing a fundamental right to be taken away and any group of people to be targeted so easily threatens all of us, and violates our system of government.  If rights can be eliminated, constitutional guarantees stripped away, and individuals targeted so easily, why have courts and constitutions in the first place?

Freedom to Marry invites everyone speaking up now to focus on the actual paths for the needed legal change to undo the great wrong of Prop 8.  There are only two—through the court or, if necessary, by ballot-measure.  All of us committed to restoring the freedom to marry in California should move swiftly (and together) to taking the great work, energy, volunteers, allies, and inroads of the past few days and weeks, not allowing them to dissipate, and add them to the non-gay and gay people now awakened to the need for involvement. We must engage together, now, to do two things simultaneously: (1) shape a climate that empowers the court to do the right thing, striking Prop 8 down, while meanwhile (2) building the majority that, if called upon, will vote to change the law through a ballot-measure. The No on 8 campaign is over; the new affirmative campaign to move California and our country has begun.  Restoring the freedom to marry and equality under the law will depend on how quickly we do the work of having the conversations, mobilizing young people and others to speak to their families and circles in every diverse community, and ratcheting up the public support (already near a majority).

Yesterday, Connecticut joined Massachusetts in marrying commited couples with equality under the law.  Let’s work to bring inclusion and the freedom to marry to other states and show the reachable-but-not-yet-reached fair-minded majority of Americans, including Californians, that families are helped and no one hurt when we treat everyone equally and embrace justice and love.

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Google News Comment

What Senator Dianne Feinstein rightly called the “terrible mistake” that a narrow majority made in California this week, and the harm it caused families and America’s values of equality for all, broke my heart, but not my spirit. Still, as much as I feel pain over California and the other temporary defeats in other states, I am buoyed by the great news from around the country. This includes not just the historic and inspiring election of Barack Obama, but enhanced opportunities to press forward for marriage in other states in 2009 while we work to restore the freedom to marry in California, sooner than some think.

From the millions who voted right in California and the thousands of gay and non-gay people who worked together to defeat Prop 8 to the majorities already with us among crucial populations (for example, young people of every race), I see the progress we have made and the foundation for the work needed ahead, provided we don’t allow what we’ve built to dissipate. Indeed just next week we will witness the progress we’ve already made: Same-Sex couples in Connecticut will begin applying for marriage licenses on November 12th. The country will again get a chance to see families helped and no one hurt.

It’s a winding path to equality, as this morning’s New York Times editorial wonderfully laid out. We join in the nation’s celebration of the power of hope and take heed in President-elect Obama’s message from his victory speech that change doesn’t come overnight, and we have to work for it. All of us, gay and non-gay, who support equality and fairness across our country must redouble our efforts and get involved. Learn what’s going on in your state. Engage those around you by talking about why equality and the freedom to marry are important to you. If we could accomplish all that we have done during the eight years of President Bush, imagine what we can do in the new era that now dawns. 

Evan Wolfson on the Biden-Palin Debate and the Freedom to Marry


Evan Wolfson writes, “[T]o end on a positive, it is good news that yet again we see that the discussion around marriage equality is moving politicians, sincerely or otherwise, to greater acknowledgment of gay families and the wrongness of discrimination against them.”

Should So-Called ‘DOMA’ be repealed?

Congressional Quarterly

[or if the question is “Should So-Called ‘DOMA’ be repealed?”:
“Yes.  Legally Married Couples, Whether Gay or Non-Gay, Should Not Be Denied Equal Federal Rights.”]

Congress should repeal the federal anti-marriage law, the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (“DOMA”).  Couples who are legally married by a state such as Massachusetts or California should not be treated as legal strangers or denied rights by the federal government.

DOMA says that no matter what the need or purpose for any given program, the government will categorically deny all federal protections and responsibilities to married couples it doesn’t like, i.e., those who are gay.  This is an intrusive departure from more than 200 years in which couples properly married under state law then qualified for the more than 1138 federal incidents of marriage such as Social Security, tax treatment as a family unit, family unification under immigration law, and access to a spouse’s health coverage.  Through DOMA, Congress for the first time ever gave itself the power to say who is married, a power that under the Constitution belongs to the states.

Even worse, by denying rights such as family leave, child support, and survivor benefits to one set of married couples, DOMA penalizes not only the couples themselves, but their children.  If the government wants to promote strong families it should treat all married couples, and their children, equally – the same rules, the same responsibilities, and the same respect under the law.  Government has no business putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to take care of their loved ones.

There are far better reasons to treat marriages with respect than there are for destabilizing them – for all couples, gay and non-gay alike.  And there are many constitutional and legal reasons why DOMA should be repealed:  It denies one group of families an important and meaningful safety-net thereby harming them and their loved ones.  It violates the right of equal protection.  It upends the traditional ways in which our country has treated married couples.  It’s a power-grab by the federal government at the expense of the states.

But the most important reason Congress should move swiftly to reverse DOMA’s radical wrong-turn is that while the anti-marriage law serves no legitimate purpose, prevents no actual harm, and leaves no one any better off, it harms some people severely. 

When DOMA was stampeded into law back in 1996, no gay couples were married anywhere in the world; Congress was voting on a hypothetical.  But today real-life married couples are cruelly affected by DOMA’s double-standard, and Americans better understand the unfairness of depriving these families of the federal rights and responsibilities that will help them protect their loved ones.  Even former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, the original sponsor, has acknowledged DOMA to be abusive and now calls for its repeal.

Marriage is not “defined” or “defended” by who is denied it.  In the United States, we don’t have second-class citizens, and we shouldn’t have second-class marriages.  Couples who have made a personal commitment in life deserve an equal commitment under the law, and those whom a state has lawfully joined in marriage should not see their marriages selectively set asunder by federal law.

Macy’s Joins the Parade for Marriage Equality

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson highlights the Macy’s ad in honor of the freedom to marry in California, the significance of a poll showing majority support for equality and against a discriminatory amendment in California, and a video of Bill O’Reilly’s skepticism about the opposition to marriage equality.

A Week Later in California, What’s Next?

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson discusses how the CA Supreme Court not only did the right thing, it did its job—upholding the Constitution, and now equality must be defended.

The Court Got It Right

USA Today

Evan Wolfson writes, “Last week, the highest court in our nation’s biggest state got it right: Excluding loving committed couples from marriage harms them and their families and helps no one. Exclusion also violates the constitution’s command of equality for all. American values of fairness and inclusion really do matter and apply to gay and non-gay people alike.”

Taxing Our Patience

Freedom To Marry

In my work for the freedom to marry, I get asked often for a specific and universally understandable example of the inequality created by exclusion from marriage.  Here’s a good and timely example—taxes.  Same-sex couples and their families across the country are paying more in taxes and getting less because of their exclusion from marriage. 

In tough economic times, we all want to save money and protect our families, but, of course, everyone also looks to the government to provide a safety-net and address dislocations and crises (especially when the government helped cause them).  “Taxes,” said Franklin Roosevelt, “are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”  We all have an obligation to contribute, and, equally, the just expectation that our government and the tax system will treat us and our loved ones fairly.

Denied the freedom to marry, gay Americans are not just deprived of precious security and respect for their loving commitments.  They are also unfairly taxed.

Take a couple who’ve been together for, say, 8 years, and who’ve just added a child to their happy family.  They do the work of marriage in their lives every day, taking care of each other, cooking, doing laundry, changing diapers, and managing life’s ups and downs.  But when Judy adds Rosa to her health insurance at work, because they are denied the freedom to marry Rosa has to pay taxes on that coverage.  One of the main protections that come to families through marriage is the ability to transfer money from one to the other, the ability to pool resources and function as a team without adverse tax treatment.  Judy and Rosa and their kids are denied that benefit of marriage – and it costs them.

  * Same-sex couples pay at least $1,000 more a year in taxes just for health insurance coverage, that’s $178 million each year collectively for these couples across the country.  That doesn’t even include the added cost to the employers.  There’s a whole study from UCLA’s Williams Institute on just this injustice.

What about your neighbor down the street?  After nearly 40 committed years together, Jorge’s partner just died.  They shared a home, a life, children, and grandchildren.  The house was in his partner’s name, and now amid his grief he also must pay debilitating inheritance taxes and property assessments that he would have been spared had he and Kevin been allowed to marry.  Grieving the loss of the love of his life, Jorge is now about to lose his home, too. 

A family in Connecticut shared this story: Gina and Jane have been together for over 10 years and adopted two children.  They have a civil union (the best they could do, since Connecticut still won’t let them just get married).  They file taxes jointly at the state level, but then have to compile three filings for the federal level, two separately and one joint just to act as a worksheet for figuring out state taxes.  Each year they try and figure out which of them should claim their children at the federal level since they can’t file jointly.  Why is government putting obstacles in the path of families like this, seeking to take care of each other?

Just last week, the Hartford Courant ran a story on how even many tax preparers don’t have the software to allow couples to file with a civil union.  The result was a cost 4 times more to file their taxes:

  The giant tax preparer was willing to prepare the couple’s taxes at one of its offices for $199.80 — $155 more than the online price…H&R Block has managed to rewrite its software to handle gay marriages in Massachusetts, but not so with civil unions in Connecticut or Vermont [.]

That the tax preparer software was able to understand marriages in Massachusetts and not civil unions in Connecticut underscores the reality that while civil unions and domestic partnerships do offer some protections to couples and their families, they are vastly unequal. As the Hartford Courant opined following the report of this inequality:

  Meanwhile, the tax hassle common to all such households reinforces the shortcomings of civil unions and debunks claims that they are an acceptable equivalent to marriage.

For tangible as well as intangible reasons, civil unions don’t work, and are no just substitute for the freedom to marry itself.

Responsible citizens simply trying to take care of their families and pay their taxes should not be discriminated based on whom they love.  We can ask candidates for office what they are going to do about this and the other pressures on America’s working families, and if the candidates seem stumped on how to treat people fairly, just hand them this: Candidates’ Guide on How to Support Marriage Equality and Get Elected (pdf) (

Will Rogers once remarked that, “The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”  The truth is we’re not going to get our country back on track until we work together to strengthen all families and thus build stronger communities for us all.  That means speaking out.

You can make a difference by sending this post to 5 friends, opening a conversation on why you care about marriage equality, not only as a matter of fairness, but as a matter of economic justice.

Today is Freedom to Marry Day - Just Don’t Say “Gay Marriage”!

The Huffington Post

As Americans across the country celebrate Freedom to Marry Day today, seizing the opportunity to have conversations with family members, friends, and coworkers about the importance of ending same-sex couples’ exclusion from marriage, hopefully they’ll talk a lot about gay couples and why marriage matters – without saying “gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage.”

Al Gore Endorses the Freedom to Marry

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson praises Nobel Laureate Al Gore for adding his voice in support of ending same-sex couples’ exclusion from marriage.  Wolfson quotes Gore, who said, “I think that gay men and women ought to have the same rights as heterosexual men and women, to make contracts, to have hospital visiting rights, to join together in marriage, and I don’t understand why it is considered by some people to be a threat to heterosexual marriage to allow it by gays and lesbians.”  Wolfson concludes, “Gore is again pointing the way — and ending exclusion from marriage is one climate change the world will be better for.”

Building on 2007

Freedom To Marry

In 2007, state legislatures considered a record number of marriage bills, while courts continued to hear cases brought by couples challenging their unfair exclusion from marriage.  Bills to create civil union or partnership as interim steps advanced in diverse states – products of the work to win marriage itself.  By year’s end, couples stood before the high courts of three states seeking marriage, legislatures in two states enacted measures just short of marriage, the California legislature and one chamber in New York voted for the freedom to marry, and public opinion continued to move in the direction of embracing marriage equality (as have the policy positions of many leading presidential candidates, who have called for undoing the federal anti-marriage law passed just a decade before).

In 2007, the people with the best first-hand, lived experience of marriage equality decided overwhelmingly to keep it, in a dramatic 3/4’s majority vote by the Massachusetts legislature.  The marriage conversation, and even state Supreme Court stumbles, moved the Washington legislature to enact a “first steps” partnership bill, and spurred governors and legislative leaders to pledge support for the freedom to marry in states such as New Jersey and Maryland.  Likewise, introduction of marriage bills vastly upped the ante and helped civil union progress in New Hampshire, Illinois, and other states, while underscoring that marriage itself remains the frame and the goal, as well as the engine of advance.

After fifteen years or so of the marriage debate, it remains true that the states that make the most gains for same-sex couples (and, incidentally, for unmarried different-sex couples) are those where advocates fight hardest for, and talk most about, the freedom to marry.  What’s more, in 2007 the talk of marriage continued to propel advances on other fronts of importance, including passage of state and local non-discrimination measures, enactment of parenting and gender identity protections, and successes for openly gay and pro-gay elected officials.

“Do all you can, no matter what, to get people to think on your reform, and then, if the reform is good, it will come about in due season,” feminist pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote.

Stanton knew the importance of perseverance – and sure enough, 2007 fell just short of yielding the crucial second marriage state that will further advance people’s growing acceptance of the need to end exclusion.  But one lesson of Massachusetts is that when we give people the chance to see marriage equality for real, not just as a scary hypothetical, many embrace it as good while others remember that they don’t care that much and can live with it.

2007 demonstrated anew the power of “doing all you can, no matter what” to encourage even the reluctant to push past their discomfort; because his co-workers, friends, and family determined not to write him off, a Republican mayor and former police chief reversed himself on whether civil unions are “good enough” and added San Diego to the hundreds who now stand alongside same-sex couples before the California Supreme Court, urging it to strike down marriage discrimination in 2008.

Freedom to Marry was founded on belief in Dr. King’s call to integrate all the “methodologies of social change”: electoral, legislative, litigation, education, and enlistment of as many as possible, gay and non-gay, creating the space for decision-makers to rise and act.  The imperatives of ending injustice, the opportunities to engage, and the urgency of the clocks ticking on cases and battles underway don’t stop on the electoral calendar.  As Bill Clinton puts it, “We give other people permission to define us if we don’t even enter the conversation.”

In 1948, another election year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in the country to strike down race restrictions on who could marry whom.  It is civil rights poetry, and an urgent call to action, that in the 60th anniversary year of that pivotal decision – deeply unpopular at the time but vindicated by history – the same court now will rule on same-sex couples’ claims to share in the freedom to marry.

In 2008, it is due season for the redeeming of our country, for justice for all families, and for that all-important second state.  The work of winning begins with the conversations each one of us has with those around us, as we become the change we seek.

Let California Ring: Talking About Change Makes It

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson writes about Let California Ring, the new campaign to encourage a million conversations throughout the state (and hopefully millions across the country) about why everyone should care about ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Wolfson points to the recent example of San Diego Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders’ change of heart and mind in favor of marriage equality as proof that conversations work. There is momentum — and urgency — now as the California Supreme Court, the first court to strike down race-discrimination in marriage nearly 60 years ago, will soon hear a challenge to ongoing marriage discrimination.

A Tearful Republican Mayor Comes Out — For the Freedom to Marry

The Huffington Post

Complete with video, Evan Wolfson highlights an emotional press conference by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican former police chief, at which he announced his intention to sign a resolution supporting the freedom to marry, a reversal from his prior public opposition. Mayor Sanders said his change of heart and mind was due to soul-searching and personal conversations with gay people he knows, including his lesbian daughter, showing how powerful it is to make the conversation about real people, not just legalisms or hypotheticals. He also described how he has come to understand that his prior support for civil union, rather than marriage, was inadequate and wrong. San Diego now joins the other major California cities in calling on the Governor and State Supreme Court to follow the legislature’s lead in embracing marriage equality.

Marriage Equality: A Cause and Conversation That Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Stop

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson notes the recent events of an Iowa court decision striking down discrimination in marriage, the California legislature passing a marriage equality bill, and a Republican presidential candidate getting booed in New Hampshire for being anti-marriage, all proof that the conversation about the freedom to marry is unavoidable and present at the epicenters of presidential politics. Wolfson presents important points from the Iowa decision which exemplify why marriage matters and offers advice to presidential candidates with the Candidates’ Guide on How to Support Marriage Equality and Get Elected.

Why the Dems should NOT shut up about gays and marriage

The New Republic

Evan Wolfson responds to August 16, 2007’s piece in The New Republic, explaining that, “As public support for marriage equality continues to evolve, Democrats, thus already perceived as the party of ‘gay marriage,’ have a winning issue on their hands, one that evokes the best traditions of their party—fairness and inclusion. The conversation will not stop. Candidates who want to move on to other questions ought to get the freedom to marry question right—for their sake as well as the country’s.”

This Week’s Gay Debate: A prime-time opportunity for straight talk on marriage

The Huffington Post

As we all prepare for tonight’s historic Democratic Presidential Debate, sponsored by our partners at HRC & LOGO, check out the key points Evan Wolfson laid out in the Featured Post on the Huffington Post blog. It discusses how candidates should answer the marriage questions at the forum, and beyond. The piece contains links to several resources to help the candidates do better — not just because it’s in our interest that they get it right, but because it’s in theirs, too.

Candidates’ Guide on How to Support Marriage Equality and Get Elected (pdf)

Freedom To Marry

Americans are hungry for, and respect, candidates who speak up for what they believe and value. When addressing marriage equality for same-sex couples, candidates should be authentic and direct about their values and the policies of fairness that flow from them.

If You Want to Be a Leader, You Can’t Be Afraid to Lead

The Huffington Post

Evan Wolfson critiques the Democratic Presidential candidates’ “affirming,” but still “incomplete and unconvincing” responses about the freedom to marry during the CNN/YouTube debate this week, offering the advice: “Ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is the clear and correct answer to the question of how to achieve equality. What’s more: it is achievable. Candidates who say they want equality (and the votes of those who believe in equality) should be prepared to live up to their values and lead the way.”

Pro-Marriage Incumbents and Candidates Win Elections

Freedom To Marry

Taking a Stand to End the Exclusion of Same-Sex Couples from Marriage Does Not Hurt Incumbents or Candidates in Their Elections

Freedom to Marry
July 26, 2007

For many years now, legislators across the country have taken votes on measures aimed at ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, on measures that move in the direction of marriage equality, and on measures aimed at discriminating against same-sex couples and their kids, denying them the freedom to marry and other legal protections.

As the number of pro-marriage incumbents and candidates continues to expand, they are winning their elections at overwhelming rates. Their success stands in blunt contrast to the commonly held belief that supporting marriage equality ends political campaigns and careers. Instead, exhibiting the leadership to stand on the side of fairness and equality actually brings candidates and voters closer together both on the campaign trail and at the polls.
If I Vote to Support the Freedom to Marry, Will I Be Re-Elected?

  * Legislators Who Voted to Support the Freedom to Marry Have a 100% Re-Election Rate. By the 2006 election, two states had seen legislative votes to support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples: several votes in the Massachusetts legislature on a proposed constitutional amendment which would repeal the freedom to marry in Massachusetts, and the California legislature’s passage of a bill to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. In Massachusetts, every legislator who voted to protect marriage equality and ran for re-election prevailed (195 for 195). In California the same was true, every incumbent who supported marriage equality and ran for re-election won.

If I Change My Vote to Supporting the Freedom to Marry, Will I Be Re-Elected?

  * Legislators Who Evolved Their Position from Opposing to Supporting the Freedom to Marry Have a 100% Re-Election Rate. Legislators in Massachusetts who evolved their position on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, from opposing equality with the anti-marriage amendment to supporting fairness and voting against the amendment, were all re-elected.

If I Vote Against an Anti-Marriage Constitutional Amendment, Will I Be Re-Elected?

  * In 2004, 94% of Legislators Who Voted Against Discrimination Were Re-Elected. According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Federation, prior to the 2004 election, 640 legislators across the country who voted against an anti-marriage constitutional amendment in their state in 2004 faced re-election. 604 won their elections (94%), and only 1.7 percent (11) of the 640 legislators arguably lost their race because of their vote against discrimination. [Standing Up for Equality, January 2005]

If I Support The Freedom to Marry In An Open-Seat Election, Will I Win?

  * In Open-Seat Races, Pro-Marriage Candidates Prevailed Against Anti-Marriage Candidates a Vast Majority of the Time, and this Stance Was Not a Factor in Losses. In open-seat races since 2004 where pro-marriage candidates squared off against anti-marriage candidates, pro-marriage candidates won 71-percent of the races. In Massachusetts, since the Goodridge decision, 25 out of 32 (78%) open-seat races where these face-offs took place were won by pro-marriage candidates. In California, such races were won by pro-marriage candidates 65-percent of the time (30 out of 46). For the pro-marriage candidates who lost, their pro-marriage stance did not play a factor in their campaigns.

Homo History

The Stranger

Touting this as the “comprehensive, unabridged, and completely indispensable guide to everything a queer person needs to know about queer history from the dawn of humanity to the present,” The Stranger assembled essays from 26 notable gay people. Includes the essay “Same-Sex Marriage Comes to the U.S.” by Evan Wolfson.

Marriage Makes a Word of Difference

Portland Mercury

Evan Wolfson writes, “As Americans debate the freedom to marry, many are getting to a place of fairness by thinking anew. Others, however, find comfort in way stations, placeholders, and delays. The compulsion to ‘compromise’ the freedom and equality of others is so common, so much a typical feature of civil rights history, that I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, to the question, ‘Why Not Use Another Word?’”

Loving Equality

The Huffington Post

Freedom to Marry Founder and President Evan Wolfson and civil rights attorney Bernard S. Cohen, who argued the Loving’s case, write together about Loving v. Virginia as a milestone in racial equality, an important vindication of marriage as a cherished civil right, and a testament to the importance of fighting for equality, rather than sitting by silently, indifferently, or complacently in the face of cruel exclusion.

Many Thanks on this 10th Annual Freedom to Marry Week

Freedom To Marry

The Freedom to Marry office is filled with glowing smiles, pure elation, and sighs of relief as our biggest week of the year, Freedom to Marry Week, has been a stunning success thus far. Throughout the country, people are seizing this opportunity to engage the public in the conversation about the need for marriage equality.

On Monday, Freedom to Marry Day, our staff hosted an extraordinary event celebrating both the 10th anniversary of Freedom to Marry Day and, gulp, my 50th birthday. I was moved and honored by the hundreds of supporters, friends, and family who attended, and was deeply inspired by those who offered their words of reminiscence and encouragement. Thanks go to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer for his letter, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for sending a City Council Proclamation, Senator Russ Feingold for the letter he sent, and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Carthcart, who offered tributes that meant a great deal to me. I then had a chance to offer my own thoughts and thanks on this special occasion:

  Ten years ago, when we began marking Freedom to Marry Day on February 12 — a date chosen to coincide with my hero, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, to invoke our message of equality and love — we had just won in Hawaii a first-ever ruling that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is unjustified, unfair, and unconstitutional.

  Back then, Bowers v. Hardwick remained a shadow on our lives and the law — and nowhere on the planet could same-sex couples marry.

  Back then, we had not yet invented the term, let alone the reality, of civil unions.

  Back then, young people had only just begun to dare dream of a life of full inclusion with a committed partner, and those of us who, even then, were older did not yet dare believe that we would live to see our movement’s work reach an end.

  Back then, most Americans, including most gay people, were first learning to put the words gay and marriage in the same sentence. Few thought we’d see marriage equality in our lifetime.

  Look at us now.

  While there is much, much still to be done — including undoing the harms inflicted under the worst Administration in American history — together we have won the freedom to marry for some gay people, and are within reach of winning it for all. We have changed the world.

  Forty years ago, another of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a sermon entitled Ingratitude. “Ingratitude,” Dr. King said, is “one of the greatest of all sins [because it is a person’s failure] to recognize his dependence on others.”

  I have always taken this seriously in two ways. First, our civil rights movement has an inheritance from, an obligation to, and commonality with, those who went before us and the work for justice led by others.

  And second, personally, what I have, and have achieved, I owe to so many others who have preceded, accompanied, assisted, guided, and sacrificed for me.

  In that spirit, though mindful of not repeating, tonight I do want to give my heartfelt thanks to the people and organizations already mentioned by my friends, Brondi Borer and Jeff Campagna — and add my appreciation to them and to the other chairs of tonight’s spectacular event, Brian Ellner, Richie Jackson, and our own Steering Committee member, Jordan Roth.

  I also want to acknowledge two other Freedom to Marry Steering Committee members here tonight: Fred Humphrey, and our co-chair, the Rev. John Buehrens, sometime President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, joining us tonight from Massachusetts.

  Thank you again to Asher and Marc for welcoming us to their remarkably beautiful home.

  I thank the Host Committee, our generous sponsors, Sonya and her team, the volunteers, and all who worked so hard and fast to make this very rare fundraising event for Freedom to Marry such a night to remember.

  And there are some others I would like to single out with my gratitude tonight.

  First, please join me in acknowledging Freedom to Marry’s talented and hard-working staff:

      * our newest staffer, Researcher/Writer Megan Kinninger
      * Executive Assistant Kiyana Horton
      * Office Administrator Jason Almodovar
      * our Senior Web Producer, Heather Jensen, who makes our website so happening
      * Freedom to Marry’s Communications Director Samiya Bashir
      * and our Deputy Director, Charles Ignacio, who patiently and skillfully shepherded this evening to completion and held me to my promise not to micro-manage.

  I am truly moved to have so many old and dear friends here from various chapters of my life — college roommates, fellow campers, movement colleagues. How sweet it is!

  I have abiding gratitude for my loving family, represented here tonight by my sister, Alison, and her partner, Patty, and my brother, Michael, and his wife, Jane.

  And I want to thankfully acknowledge my beautiful sweetheart, Cheng, who brings my life fullness, a little balance, and, always, laughter.

  George Bernard Shaw wrote:

  “This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can.”

  Thank you, each of you, for sharing this vision of being part of something mightier than any of us, something hard, but right and good and timely and within reach.

  You have connected with, and contributed to, Freedom to Marry — and together we will use what we have gathered, summon others, bend history, and make and leave a better world.

  And while we will not finish our work of winning marriage equality nationwide before next year’s Freedom to Marry Week, together we will do it before another half-century passes.
  Thank you.

As I reach you on Valentine’s Day, a day we celebrate love, I feel overwhelmingly surrounded by love and support especially following such an exceptional event. I look forward to the day when we can all have the choice to show our love and commitment through marriage.

BLOG: Op-Ed: NJ marriage ‘08 — Start your engines

Blue Jersey

When Governor Corzine signed New Jersey’s civil union bill into law late last year, he kicked off the next and last stage of the work to secure the full measure of protection and dignity that is every family’s due, and which civil union fails to deliver. And so we turn now to the months of persuasion and persistence needed to win all committed couples in New Jersey the freedom to marry, shimmering within our reach.

A New Year’s message from Evan Wolfson

Freedom To Marry

As 2006 winds down, it’s a good time to take a look back, rest and recharge, and get ready to return in January for what already is shaping up to be a historic and potentially transformative year.

It’s dawned on me in the past few weeks that 2006 was actually a pretty hard year, but, at the same time, a year in which supporters of the freedom to marry clearly made deep progress. Some of what made it hard:

  * We had to endure a months-long rocky patch that ran from July’s shabby and divided high court rulings in New York and Washington through to the unsatisfying but still historic unanimous decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court that put wind back in our movement’s sails. Happily, though many feared a loss of momentum for marriage equality, no one walked away from the work at hand to win it… and we are very much back on the move.
  * The right-wing continued their state-by-state assault on gay and unmarried couples and their kids, inscribing discriminatory language harmful to families and antithetical to American values into seven more state constitutions.
  * Too many politicians and progressives continued to hesitate to make the case for justice unequivocally, sqaundering opportunities to engage the public deeper and faster and provide the reachable-but-not-yet-reached the leadership they are ready for as they wrestle with their own internal conflicts.
  * There is a growing tendency among some allies, and even our own, to see marriage as “inevitable,” and, perversely, therefore less urgently to be fought for. Too many let themselves off the hook in complacency, or with knee-jerk assertions that the time is not yet right, or with a condescending assurance that words don’t matter, civil union or even less is good enough for now , and that the less will somehow morph by itself into marriage — on someone else’s watch.

How do we know that the growing numbers of us who favor ending marriage discrimination are making progress? Well, amidst the challenges and beneath the surface, 2006 offered many indicators that Americans are ready to rise to the better angels of their nature and accept committed couples’ freedom to marry:

  * South Africa became the latest country, and the first in Africa, to end couples’ exclusion from marriage, joining Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, and, of course, 1/50th of the United States. Meanwhile, even more nations are moving in the direction of ending marriage discrimination through varieties of registered partnership (often for both same-sex and different-sex couples) in Andorra, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and in parts of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Spain, and the US. As the year ended, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples married elsewhere must have their marriages treated equally at home — a triumph for fairness and love in the Holy Land.
  * Here at home in America, candidates who supported marriage were elected and reelected in droves in states from CA to MA to NH, states where they’d voted on marriage bills or against attacks, while anti-gay and anti-marriage legislators were defeated.
  * Pro-marriage legislators increased in many states, and the country seemed to rouse itself and repudiate the divisive forces who have dominated the political landscape over the past several years.
  * For the first time, every justice on a state high court held that committed same-sex couples must be treated equally (and 3 of the 7 justices, including the incoming chief justice, recognized that equal means equal, and that means marriage).
  * The other disappointing court rulings were so feeble and hasty in applying a toothless standard of review to achieve the result and pass the buck to the legislature that they demonstrated anew that there is increasingly no tenable real argument justifying couples’ exclusion from marriage.
  * The anti-gay margins by which discriminatory ballot measures passed declined in many of the states, as documented well by the Task Force. Meanwhile, Arizona succeeded in defeating a constitutional amendment that would have denied important protections to non-gay and gay families alike, the first time we’ve beaten one on the ballot (as apart from the many we continue to block in legislatures), while the MA legislature definitively shelved the attempt to turn back the clock on marriage there.
  * Elected officials continue to “evolve” in their position, from Senator Hillary Clinton, who says she no longer opposes marriage and believes committed same-sex couples should have full equality “with nothing left out,” to incoming pro-marriage governors such as Eliot Spitzer in NY and Deval Patrick in MA.
  * Despite the railroading through of a civil union bill instead of ending marriage discrimination in NJ, a joint effort by Garden State Equality and all the key national organizations made clear that marriage is the answer, and civil union merely a way-station — and got all the legislative leaders and the governor to say that marriage is now the goal. Far from getting stuck at civil union, advocates of fairness will mount a strong effort to win marriage within 1-3 years in NJ, several New England states, NY, and CA, and beyond.

Crucial battles loom in 2007 — including the Gettysburg that is California. As I wrote in Why Marriage Matters, the key to winning is conversation: Gay people talking to non-gay people about our lives, our love, and our commitment, and why marriage matters, and non-gay people speaking out for fairness and equality and treating people the way you’d want to be treated. Everyone can be a part of this conversation, and Freedom to Marry’s team, including you, is committed to redoubling our work to bringing more people in and helping each of us make sure our voice is heard in 2007. Together, we are the ones making the “inevitable” happen. Someone’s got to do it.

Happy New Year!

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: An Enlightened Ruling

New York Times

Evan Wolfson writes, “As the Legislature moves now to carry out the Constitution’s command of equality, we are confident that legislators will see that the right way to end discrimination in marriage is indeed to end discrimination in marriage, not repackage it.”

Winning On Gay Marriage

Once again, America is heading into an Election Day with another round of ballot-measure attacks on gay people. While a shifting mood in the electorate may give our cause a boost—and as the public begins to wise up to Karl Rove’s gay-scapegoat-distraction plan—we are still likely to lose most, if not all, of the ballot measures aimed against us this year. We need to be ready to explain that loss to ourselves, our media and the public so the right-wing cannot spin these defeats into a false claim that our cause undermines candidates or other concerns we share.

Telling the Truth

Freedom To Marry

In Rise to Fairness, I talked about why we, understandably, are losing the unfairly premature and preemptive votes that the anti-gay industry, aligned to the White House, are mounting in their ongoing state-by-state wave of assaults on constitutions. And I promised that I would use this week’s Note to set forth what our side’s campaign message should be in these election battles — not just to lay the groundwork for greater understanding and victory over time, but also to have even a hope of winning on the short-term election timeframe that presents a nearly insuperable challenge to a minority in the early stages of a civil rights conversation.

In visits this past week to Virginia (.mp3) [], where gay families are currently under attack, and Kentucky (mp3) [], where advocates of fairness are regrouping following the assault in 2004, I underscored the importance of using these early battles as a chance to give non-gay people the message that this is not a freebie vote on how they feel in the abstract about marriage or about gays in Massachusetts. Rather, we need to help the reachable-but-not-yet-reached understand that this question of marriage equality is about how discriminatory laws are treating couples and children right there at home in South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, or any other community or state. We must make our appeal to them personal (why I care enough to ask you to care), local (this is about people here who are being hurt), and persistent (I trust you’re a good person and I am going to engage with you and address your concerns as you think it through), giving them the information and time to absorb it that will allow them to push past discomfort and rise to fairness.

So far, too many of our state campaigns (both the short-term election efforts and, even more important, the longer-term public education work) have failed to offer the voting public real content and an authentic engagement. Too often they have not used the airtime of an election battle to talk about gay people and marriage (the two things these ballot measures are most about), instead relying on generic appeals to fairness. Too many of our side’s campaigns have chosen to emphasize collateral effects on non-gay families, as if voters will really be persuaded that what the media will always refer to as “the marriage amendment” is somehow not about gay people’s freedom to marry. Worst of all, many campaigns and activists have gone with the message that people should vote the measure down simply because it is “unnecessary” or “goes too far,” subliminally suggesting — unintentionally, but in a way that is still damaging to our long term movement — that some discrimination is okay and that if we really did have gay couples marrying here, it would indeed be a problem.

All of these avoidance messages fail to explain how the denial of marriage hurts local families, and fail to dispel people’s initial anxieties and reduce their resistance enough to hear the messages that would enable them to respond to their internal conflicts in a way that could lead to a good vote. Not only do they not help people improve their understanding over time, they do not connect enough to diffuse discomfort so as to enable a win. There is no end-run around the heavy lifting we must do to change hearts and minds — and no better time to start than now.

So what should a campaign message be — both in the short-term burst of an election and, more importantly, in the conversations over time? Its core should be something like this:

  Local couples such as Jane and Judy of Kenosha Falls, Wisconsin [substitute a locality in your state here] who are in love and have been together X years and are raising Y kids and caring for Judy’s aging parents [paint a picture — personal, local, emotionally compelling — ideally giving the names/ages of people, including the kids] are harmed when excluded from marriage because being denied marriage means they don’t get the legal commitment to match the personal commitment they’ve made in life, and thereby are denied X and Y [specify some of the tangible and intangible concomitants of marriage, to be found in my book or on the web]. Denying them marriage does nothing to help anyone else, but hurts their family — that’s not our Wisconsin values. Discrimination like this has no place in Wisconsin or in our constitution. And by the way, this constitutional amendment is deliberately sweeping and vague, and is intended to deny them civil unions, partnership, health benefits, etc., depriving Jane and Judy and their kids any measure of protection, large or small, for their family. That’s cruel and unfair.

The campaigns should use the time to introduce non-gay people to their gay neighbors — for instance, the 13,802 same-sex couples that the 2000 Census (undercounting) tells us live in Virginia, 17.9% of them African-American, 29.9% of them raising children (meaning there are over 4000 couples with kids, and, thus, thousands of Virginia children being harmed by the denial of marriage that undermines their families).

Note the “by the way” in the message above. This may, indeed, be the part of the message that is easiest for a critical group of people to get to first. But they can’t get there until we have spent enough time and given enough information in the first part of the campaign (over many months ) to connect the dots to the denial of marriage, and diffuse or reduce anxieties or misconceptions around marriage at least enough to get them ready to take in the “by the way” message regarding the breadth and cruelty of the amendment’s “second sentence.” This is why we need to start earlier and use time more wisely than we have in any of these battles. And campaigns — electoral or educational — that think they can make the whole conversation and vote about the “by the way” from the get-go are kidding themselves, no matter what a pollster or consultant may tell them is the easier lift.

The good news, as I told those on the frontlines in Kentucky and Virginia, is that even the unfair, harsh, and despicably un-American state constitutional amendments are not the last word — unless we allow them to be. Ours is the generation that will live to see the exclusion from marriage ended in all fifty states, if we do the work… in all fifty states, using time wisely to do right.

Rise to Fairness

Freedom To Marry

Once again, America is heading into an Election Day with another round of attacks on gay people on the ballot. This assault on a vulnerable minority, and the cruel attempt to wall us off from marriage and all other measures of protection, large or small, for our families, are both cruel and un-American.

But equally to be condemned is the very idea of cementing discrimination and permanent second-class citizenship into constitutions, intended to be the precious charters of freedom and national unity. America’s federal and state constitutions embody the basic American invention of democratic rule combined with checks and balances, an independent judiciary, boundaries on government power, and “certain inalienable rights” for all regardless of popularity. While a shameful disregard for the importance, and fragility, of republican self-government is perhaps unsurprising during an administration seemingly intent not merely on circumventing the American Constitution, but repealing the Magna Charta, it remains, nevertheless dangerous and contemptible.

Frightening, too, is the silence of far too many non-gay people, allies, and even gay people in the face of this radical betrayal of America’s fundamentals by fundamentalists and those who use them for crass political purposes.

We are likely to lose most, if not all, of the ballot measures aimed against us this year — and need to be ready to explain that to ourselves, our media, and the public so the right-wing cannot spin these defeats into a false claim that our cause undermines candidates or other concerns we share.

At a similar juncture in advance of Election 2004, in a speech entitled The Scary Work of Winning, I described why we lose these battles. We need to understand that civil rights movements rarely win early votes. After all, if it were as simple as a minority turning to the majority and saying please stop discriminating against us; we wouldn’t need constitutions or courts. And many of these attacks are cruelly aimed at gay people in states with already beleaguered communities, under-funded infrastructure, and few if any existing legal protections.

But, as I said in 2004, the other reason we are likely to lose in some places is that we have not fully fought the fight, not fully engaged in the conversation necessary — sustained and to scale — to move hearts and minds.

When we run campaigns that flee from describing who local gays are and why marriage matters — campaigns that fail to connect the dots between fairness and how the denial of marriage harms families and helps no one — we are not giving people what they need over enough time to move to our side. In 2006, in the state battles underway, once again, even where the cause of equality has in fact been able to raise money and organize credible campaigns against Rove and his minions, we are making the mistake of not talking about marriage and gay people. And so we lose.

In The Scary Work of Winning, I laid out a several “lessons” from civil rights struggles that we need to embrace. One was what I called “losing forward,” or progressing toward the long-term win. It followed the first lesson, “wins trump losses” — and I am an optimist who believes in fighting to win. But we can’t always win on the enemy’s timeframe, can’t win without envisioning what victory means and then what it takes, and can’t win if we run from a fight.

“Losing forward,” or progressing toward the long-term win, means that in states and battles where we cannot win because the odds are too great in the immediate, and where we have started too late in the discussion for that election cycle, we can still engage authentically and build alliances so as to advance the cause and put ourselves better in place for the inevitable next battle—all moving forward toward a win that takes time and heavy lifting to achieve.

When I push campaign leaders, activists, and funders on the need to talk specifically about gays and marriage — and not run away from what the battle is really about — it is not merely to win down the road. I push this way of talking and making our case repeatedly because it is our best chance of winning, period. But I also believe that if we fail to at least lose forward, then we not only lose once, but twice, because we do not advance our cause.

In our next E-Update, I will write more about what I believe the message of our campaigns — political, public educational, and personal — should be as we move the middle to fairness and, with time and absorption of information, the freedom to marry itself.

But, take my word for it: if we do not speak out about why marriage matters, we can’t expect others to calm down enough to hear other messages that might be easier for them to accept in the short-term, let alone rise to fairness.

Thinking Anew

Freedom To Marry

September has always felt like the real start of a new year to a lot of us. For students, parents, and teachers, it means back to school. Important elections and ballot measures are coming up across the nation in November and many of us have participated in the recent primary elections. With summer slipping into memory, we turn back to the work and, we hope, renewal at hand.

This year, September is particularly bittersweet as we mark anniversaries of two of the most devastating events in our country’s history — the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Hurricane Katrina natural and man-made disasters in 2005. Both underscored our national and personal vulnerability, and showed the importance of protections for families, including those of us who are not gay and those who love us.

September also marks the fifth anniversary of the “blueprint” article I wrote laying out a vision of a sustained and affirmative campaign to win the freedom to marry, a call to action centered on focused work to attain a legal breakthrough in one and then more states; national public education, outreach, and organizing; and the creation of a climate of receptivity that would embolden and empower judges and legislators to do the right thing.

With a decision from New Jersey’s Supreme Court due any day and crucial work at hand in California and other states, we need to ratchet up the voices explaining who gay families are, how the denial of marriage harms them and our country, and how non-gay and gay people can engage in this social justice cause.

In the face of much that has gone wrong for America over the past five years, we have made undeniable progress in explaining why marriage matters to gay Americans. With the blueprint still before us, let’s renew and redouble our work for social justice and reap the harvest we’ve sown.

Read the 9/11/01 article, All Together Now (A Blueprint for the Movement):

California, Here We Come

Freedom To Marry

I spent a chunk of August in the Golden State, working with our colleagues at the Equality California Institute on an ambitious new initiative to “move the needle” on public opinion about gay people and our freedom to marry. The CA Equality Project will be an affirmative, sustained, and integrated grassroots, media, and public education campaign that for the first time in our movement’s history will be truly to scale, and conducted over a long enough period of time to engage non-gay people with the information they need and deserve: who gay people are, and why marriage matters. The Project will not only stimulate and shape conversations with Californians, but will give our movement lessons and models to be shared around the country for the work underway and ahead in other states. And we’re going to do it on our terms — no more too little, too late, and no more just playing defense.

Why now, and why California?

As America grapples with fairness for our families, nothing could do more to advance our cause than educating people about ending marriage discrimination in California. California is our nation’s largest state, the world’s 6th largest economy, and a bellwether with enormous influence on how Americans and others live and think. Nothing could reshape the echo chamber of political pundits, elected officials, civil rights leaders, and talk show hosts more than a real and sustained public education campaign on marriage and equality for same-sex couples.

Think of it this way: the Civil War did not end with Gettysburg; there were battles and scary stretches that followed. But in retrospect, it became clear that Gettysburg had been the turning-point, the battle that won the war. In this human rights movement, California will be the Gettysburg for justice. California is our claim to the future. And by getting enough conversations to happen, we can be the ones to secure a new world of fairness and inclusion for ourselves, our loved ones, the next generation, and our country.

Stay in the Fight: The court stumbled, but the movement for justice continues

The Stranger

Judges and politicians who don’t do the right thing now will feel deep shame at their abdication in this moment of history. So will we—unless we move now to nudge past 5-4 to a full victory, ending the exclusion from marriage and creating a community of equality, liberty, and justice for all, just as Washington envisioned.

Why We Fight for the Freedom to Marry

Equality California

Our fight for the freedom to marry is a fulfillment of American values — not just because most people value love, commitment, and protections for family, for which we seek marriage, but also because it is part of the history of freedom that those who seek freedom must stand up for it.

The Freedom To Marry: Keep Dancing

The Advocate

The silver lining to the New York State high court’s poorly argued ruling in favor of marriage discrimination is, well, that it’s poorly argued. If we make our case for equality directly to our fellow Americans, we’ll win.

“Is that all there is?” sang Peggy Lee.

I can’t honestly say those were the first words that wafted through my head when I read the shocking plurality opinion of New York’s high court last week, refusing to strike down the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. The first words were more like “twisted legal reasoning” (New York Times editorial, July 7), “callous and insulting” (Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), or “outdated and bigoted” (Howard Dean, Democratic Party).

Just five weeks after oral arguments in the freedom-to-marry cases brought by 44 couples and their children, the New York court of appeals (the state’s highest court) ruled, 4-2, that it is not necessarily “irrational” for the law to exclude same-sex couples and their loved ones from marriage. Applying a toothlessly minimal scrutiny to the denial of something as important as the freedom to marry, the plurality held that the limitation of marriage to different-sex couples could be arguably justified on the basis of either of two possible rationales. First, heterosexuals, who can conceive children by accident, need the stability that marriage brings (whereas gay couples, whether or not raising children, do not). Second, the denial of marriage, in the court’s words, could relate to the “intuition” that a “child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like,” even though, the judges conceded, there is no actual evidence that this is so or that children raised in other homes, including by gay parents, are at all harmed.

Put aside for the moment, as the dissent explained, that “marriage is about much more than producing children, yet same-sex couples are excluded from the entire spectrum of protections that come with civil marriage—purportedly to encourage other people to procreate.” In fact, the plurality’s strained rationalizing of the discriminatory exclusion fails on its own terms.

New York’s ruling came just a week after the Arkansas supreme court unanimously rejected precisely the same proffered rationale; unlike the four-member majority of New York’s highest court, the judges in Arkansas (!) instead relied on the evidence provided by experts in child welfare. That evidence was, of course, available to the New York judges. Institutions such as the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychiatric Association, the Association to Benefit Children, and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, among other authorities, submitted briefs to the court calling for an end to marriage discrimination in the interest of children and families.

And the very week of the New York decision, the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in once again with an authoritative statement titled “The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children” (see the academy’s full analysis on The nation’s kids’ doctors know best—and here’s what they said:

“There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and any measure of a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with one or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.”

Not only was this evidence, this kind of careful consideration of what truly helps couples and kids missing from the New York plurality opinion, so was any actual logical connection between the ends ostensibly sought (promoting stability, helping children) and the means chosen (denying that stability and help to others). As Chief Judge Judith Kaye explained in her powerful and persuasive dissent (required reading for all Americans who want to understand why our nation needs marriage equality:, “it is not enough that the State have a legitimate interest in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages. The relevant question here is whether there exists a rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, and, in fact, whether the State’s interests in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages are rationally furthered by the exclusion.”

Under proper equal protection analysis, neither the “accidental procreation” rationale for heterosexual “stability through marriage” nor the “best interests of the children” rationale for favoring one kind of family holds up as a justification for the denial of gay people’s freedom to marry.

As the dissent pointed out, “Defendants primarily assert an interest in encouraging procreation within marriage. But while encouraging opposite-sex couples to marry before they have children is certainly a legitimate interest of the State, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from marriage in no way furthers this interest. There are enough marriage licenses to go around for everyone… [After all,] no one rationally decides to have children because gays and lesbians are excluded from marriage.”

The plurality’s failure to even consider the lived realities of the 44 plaintiff couples, their kids, and the hundreds of thousands of gay New Yorkers and their families injured by the denial of marriage undoubtedly contributed to the retrograde and astonishing suggestion that the different-sex restriction on marriage somehow helps kids. In fact, as Judge Kaye noted, “the exclusion of same-sex couples from the legal protections incident to marriage exposes their children to the precise risks that the State argues the marriage laws are designed to secure against.” That would be so even if the “intuition” that there is one “best kind of family” were true—irrelevant as that is to kids who, after all, have the families they have, and don’t deserve the laws making their family’s life any harder.

So why did Peggy Lee come to mind today? I got an e-mail from a friend this morning. She asked me if, 10 years after winning the marriage trial in Hawaii, which turned on the state’s failure to show that excluding gay couples from marriage in any way helped children, I could believe that we were hearing such illogic, such obliviousness to the needs of same-sex couples and their kids, such insufficient justifications for denying something so important as marriage yet again—and in New York, no less.

Is that all there is? I thought. All they’ve been able to come up with since we refuted these same unsubstantiated and unconnected assertions a decade ago? In fact, this is all they’ve got to justify dragging out the pointless exclusion of gay couples from marriage. I believe we need to take people’s concerns and questions seriously; that’s why I wrote my book, Why Marriage Matters. When people start to think it through, pushing past their discomfort, all the opponents of equality have left is a strained and unconvincing set of assumptions—intuitions—that can only be thought to pass muster on the most minimal level of constitutional scrutiny. The perpetuation of discrimination rests on habit, inertia, fear, and conjectural rationales belied by evidence and logical connection. If we do our job of giving people the information enough times over enough time, all they will have left is, as Lincoln put it, “as thin as the homeopathic soup made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.”

The silver lining of the decision is, ironically, its thinness, illogic, and refusal to consider the lives of real people, including gay families, and the real meaning of the denial of the human experience that is marriage. While the dissent makes a convincing legal and moral case, the plurality and concurring opinions will present no impediment to a court or decision-maker wanting to do what is right and willing to apply real scrutiny to a constitutional and moral wrong. As the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese put it, “If nothing else, this ruling will cause people—gay and straight alike—to reflect on this judge’s unusual view of gay marriage and then come to their own conclusions.”

And, because, in the words of The New York Times, “New York’s highest court has harmed both the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and its reputation as a guardian of individual liberties by denying same-sex couples the right to marry,” not just gay people, but also nongay, as people who care about fairness and equal protection under the law, are rightly feeling dissed and pissed. The Times editorial concluded, “Those who favor gay marriage need to quickly move past this week’s disappointment and get energized. That also applies to those in the other states where courts have failed to uphold the rights of all Americans.”

So what next?

In one of his characteristically eloquent and heartfelt pieces, Andrew Sullivan got it mostly right. Sullivan unduly disparages the important and legitimate role of the courts (those of us who respect America’s precious system of constitutional guarantees and checks and balances, unlike right-wingers who criticize judges for doing their job, criticize judges only for not doing their job). But his bottom-line is right-on: “We have the better arguments. Let’s make them to the people and their elected representatives, and we’ll win in the end.”

In New York now, this means the fight redoubles and shifts to the court of public opinion and the legislature, as a broad nongay and gay coalition spearheaded by the Empire State Pride Agenda and other groups, holds public officials such as likely next governor Eliot Spitzer, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the assembly speaker, and the senate majority leader to their obligation to end this pointless discrimination. In other states we rightly and strategically press forward both in the courts and the legislatures, looking to historic achievements such as California’s passage of a marriage bill in 2005 and Massachusetts’s repudiation of an antigay attack, both vindicated at the polls when not a single pro-marriage elected official was defeated because of his or her vote. And, meanwhile, in all states we make the case for fairness and equality and why marriage matters around kitchen tables, in the workplace, in places of worship, and in our speaking out, person to person, group to group.

And as we make the case, breaking the inertia that allowed this court to stumble, we take heart that more and more nongay people now are joining us in speaking out. They are making their voices heard in the courts, as in the breadth of friend-of-the court groups assembled by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and the law firms at their sides. They are making their voices heard in the court of public opinion, as witness the American Academy of Pediatrics and the pledges of candidates such as the Democrats running for governor in both California and New York. And they are making their voices heard from the courts, making the case as commonsense and inescapable as these words from Chief Judge Kaye:

  “The true nature and extent of the discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians… is perhaps best illustrated by the simple truth that each one of the plaintiffs here could lawfully enter into a marriage of convenience with a complete stranger of the opposite sex tomorrow, and thereby immediately obtain all of the myriad benefits and protections incident to marriage. Plaintiffs are, however, denied these rights because they each desire instead to marry the person they love and with whom they have created their family.”

In the course of the New York litigation, the discussion around who gay families are, what equality means, and why marriage matters pushed public opinion from 47% in favor of ending marriage discrimination to 53%. Against the power of our truth and the inevitable rise to ascendancy of younger people who favor the freedom to marry, opponents of equality have only increasingly hollow appeals to “intuitions” and “traditions” that merely perpetuate rather than justify discrimination, present but curable discomfort that manifests itself in illogic and—here’s where the ball is in our court—inertia that results from the failure of those who care to speak up and take action.

“Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing,” sang Peggy Lee. If dancing means engaging others, by all means let’s dance; this discordant, tinny ruling did not stop the music. And if dancing means, well, dancing, then let’s keep working until all committed couples can dance, with family, friends, and loved ones, at their weddings, pursuing happiness, celebrating their commitment and love, equally protected by the law and the respect due every person.

Wolfson is executive director of Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry (Simon and Schuster, 2004).

Returning to the Well

Freedom To Marry

Much has been said lately about right-wing groups such as Focus on the Family (and the Republican Party) once again rolling out their anti-gay so-called “Marriage Protection Amendment,” which seeks to enshrine discrimination into our nation’s Constitution. While our opponents’ attack on a vulnerable minority to divide voters and stir up their base during a critical election year is heinous, the response from our side (including much of the Democratic Party and Republican moderates) is nowhere near strong or authentic enough.

While it is true that our nation has many pressing concerns, too many on our side cling to the argument that the crucial national conversation about ending discrimination in marriage is a distraction from other “more important” matters. Not only do they miss the opportunity to make the case for ending marriage discrimination and thereby persuade the reachable-but-not-yet-reached, they send an additional insult to the couples around the country who consider their lives, and those of their children and loved ones, to be very important indeed.

It is essential that we not minimize the importance of the movement for equal marriage rights to families around the country. Marriage matters — and the American people deserve the opportunity to engage in this civil rights conversation focusing not on diversionary tactics (from either side), but on the real lives of lesbian and gay couples and their kids, as well as the harms they face as a result of their exclusion from this most basic social and legal institution.

The abandonment of any effort to persuade the center on big questions has, for more than a decade now, ceded ground and power to the right-wing. Silence and evasion are costing the country as well as gay couples and their kids the chance to make the case, win the hearts, earn the respect, and see America reach the better angels of its nature. It’s not enough to oppose and defeat a federal amendment; we must make the case for ending discrimination in marriage in every state, nationwide.

The Constitution Protects Us All: Say No to Discriminatory Amendments

Freedom To Marry

For the second time in two years, under fierce pressure from right-wing groups hostile to gay people and opposed to the separation of church and state, some politicians are again trying to drum up support for a proposed anti-gay amendment that would cement discrimination into the Constitution. These politicians fail to realize that they will never be anti-gay enough to satisfy the anti-gay industry. These same extremists are attacking Bush, arguably the most right-wing president in history, for not being far-right enough. Where will it stop?

The so-called “Federal Marriage Amendment,” if passed, would intrude the federal government into the regulation of marriage to prevent all states and all future generations from making their own decisions on ending sex discrimination in marriage, just as they ended race discrimination in marriage a generation ago.

Equally bad, the deliberately vague and sweeping language of this proposed amendment to the Constitution would impede state action on a whole host of other family protections, most of which have never before been subject to federal legislation. Writing discrimination into our Constitution through this measure is intended to prevent state and local governments, as well as the federal government and in many cases private employers, from providing any other measure of protection (i.e., “the legal incidents” of marriage) to gay people and their families as well as other unmarried Americans and their children.

It is appalling to see Karl Rove and his allies once again seeking to divided America for partisan purposes or parochial agendas, and especially galling to see them playing with fire near the Constitution of the United States, as well as in their state-by-state assault on state constitutions. For more information on what you can do, contact one of our many partners listed on our partner’s page (

Marriage Equality, Justice in Immigration Go Together (pdf)

The Advocate

Gay people — both citizens and non-citizens — have a direct stake in both immigration fairness and ending anti-gay discrimination.

Marriage Equality Moves Forward

Not only are we seeing the American people moving swiftly (in historical terms) toward marriage equality, but, in fact it turns out that even the third Wolfson considered unreachable on any reasonable timeline are not so adamant.

Just Say No to Civil Union

The Stranger

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, discusses the inequities of civil unions and why the freedom to marry matters. As the Washington court decision draws near, Wolfson expresses the importance of those who favor equality and inclusion to help explain to the “reachable middle” why marriage matters and why ending marriage discrimination is the right thing to do.

Marriage Equality is Within Reach, If We Do the Reaching (and Don’t Under-Reach)

Freedom To Marry

Couples who are doing the work of marriage right in their home state — caring for one another, raising kids, worrying about aging parents, paying taxes, contributing to the community, even fighting over who takes out the garbage — couples who have made this personal commitment in life deserve an equal commitment in law. That commitment in their state is called marriage.

Courts have repeatedly found that the state can’t justify the continued exclusion of these Washington couples from marriage. And, of course, there is no good reason to withhold the freedom to marry from some Americans based on their sex or sexual orientation, any more than there was to withhold the freedom to marry based on race or religion.

As the public and decision-makers wrestle with this civil rights question, it is important that those who favor equality and inclusion use the time now to unite around a few clear points that will help defend a victory against the inevitable right-wing attack and help explain to the “reachable middle” why ending marriage discrimination is the right thing to do. Each of us must talk to the people around us to explain why marriage matters, why we care about ending discrimination here at home, and why we trust them to be fair and do the right thing. Tools for these conversations and to empower more voices for fairness can be found on websites of groups like Equal Rights Washington ( and Freedom to Marry (

The right way to end discrimination in marriage is to, well, end discrimination in marriage. Not create something new, different, lesser, or other. Not to take our nation, again, down the path of separate and unequal treatment for some. Not to say to some couples and their kids, “You come in the front,” while telling others to go around back. Couples seeking the freedom to marry deserve a clear and simple answer: marriage — same rules, same responsibilities, same respect.

To forestall any ill-thought-out flinching or faint-heartedness from friends of fairness, let’s all be clear now — and then spread the word — the freedom to marry matters. Here’s why:

Marriage offers an incomparable—and irreplaceably broad—array of protections and responsibilities under state, federal, and international law. This safety-net affects every area of life from birth to death, with taxes in between. The rules relating to marriage have been worked out through courts and legislatures to cover an astonishing array of contingencies, and cannot be replicated by any other contract, statute, or state’s new invention. No separate status — whether called civil unions, domestic partnership, or shmarriage — provides economic justice to couples and their kids. Around the world, everyone knows what marriage entails. No newly invented status brings what comes, tangibly and intangibly, with a legal marriage license and the two words, “I do.”

As described in my book, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, there are several reasons why civil unions are no substitute for marriage, and not the right answer for couples, communities, and our country:

  * One of the main protections that come with marriage is the word marriage, and the security, clarity, and dignity it brings to families. To be denied the vocabulary of marriage and its meaningful, resonant, and readily understood statement of love and commitment — and instead, have to fumble for ten documents, an explanation of a new term that doesn’t even have a verb, and, possibly, a lawyer just to protect your family in a time of crisis — is not fair and not equal.
  * Civil unions are good, but limited, and do not provide the full range of protection for families. There is only one system in our country that protects families no matter where they live or travel; it’s called marriage. Civil unions do not provide the 1,138 federal incidents of marriage, or assure security and equal treatment from state to state.
  * Civil unions are a product of the work to win marriage itself; we don’t get even civil unions by asking for civil unions. Support for civil unions represent a place-holder in people’s thinking as they grapple with the need to end discrimination against gay people, same-sex couples, and our kids. Running away from a discussion of how the denial of marriage harms families, and failing to defuse this hot-button, undercuts the reachable middle’s ability to rise to fairness.
  * The opponents of equality are against civil union as well as marriage, as shown by the anti-gay amendments being pushed state by state and in Congress by right-wing groups. These attack measures would deny the freedom to marry, but also civil union, domestic partnership, and any other bit of protection, large or small. Separate and unequal “compromises” satisfy no one, and legislators who capitulate on questions of fundamental fairness and basic rights buy no one off, gain no peace, spare the state no debate, avoid no primary challenges, but rather just fall short on all sides. If we are going to have to fight anyway, why not fight for what we fully deserve? In fact, authenticity and leadership actually help politicians guide the public to the right result. Consider: In Vermont, where legislators created civil union rather than ended marriage discrimination, a right-wing firestorm followed anyway, with hateful attack ads across the state, primary challenges, and electoral turbulence. By contrast, in Massachusetts, every single legislator who supported marriage equality won reelection and some of the anti’s were defeated, because the public had a chance to see leadership, hear the case, and, most important, witness with their own eyes that when same-sex couples married, they didn’t use up the marriage licenses and the sky didn’t fall.

To sum it up, either marriage and civil union are the same, in which case, why do we need two lines at the clerk’s office, or they are not the same, in which, what is the government withholding from these families in their state, and why?

Let us hope the courts do their job, and uphold the constitution’s command of equality for all. If the question of marriage discrimination goes to the legislature, let us hope our elected officials do their job, and end that discrimination, rather than repackaging it. And in the meantime, let us each do our job: helping people around us understand why marriage matters, why equality and fairness require an end to discrimination in marriage.

Two rules: First, don’t assume that just because people are generally pro-gay or tolerant, or just because they like or love us, that they know the right answer here. We must connect the dots and make the personal ask. Rule 2 is the flip side: don’t assume that just because someone is not yet with us means they can’t get there. By speaking out clearly for an end to discrimination in marriage, each of us can make that happen, and make our state a better place for all families. Let’s not begin these conversations bargaining against ourselves.

Click here ( for other stories about hardships faced by couples deprived of marriage.

Countering a Right-Wing Claim to the “Slippery Slope” Argument

On an Illinois radio show I did last week — available on our podcast or at this link ( — one anti-gay caller characteristically avoided offering a reason why the government should continue excluding same-sex couples from marriage and, as usual, went to the “slippery slope” diversion of “polygamy.” As new proof that the sky was falling, the caller said that the Netherlands, which has ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, has now also allowed a trio of man and two women to wed. Before yet another right-wing scare tactic gathers traction, please note that this claim — that the Netherlands registered a multi-partner “civil union” — is untrue.

Following the radio interview, we looked into the caller’s claim and found an erroneous September 27 report in something called the Brussels Journal — — misusing the term “civil union” and talking about something “registered by a notary.” Once we checked this with a leading Dutch expert who follows legal developments in family law, we learned that the only legally relevant thing that happened was that three people, with the help of a notary, signed a private cohabitation contract — and did not enter into any kind of legal state-recognized union. Such personal agreements are not registered, and do not have legal implications for third parties. In both these respects, as well with regard to the state’s imprimatur, a personal agreement or contract is different from both marriage and registered partnership. (And civil union, as such, is not a legal status in the Netherlands).

Again, this was a private arrangement among three people, not a marriage or partnership or union. According to our Dutch expert, there is no law in the Netherlands (nor in most other countries) that limits the number of parties who can among themselves make a personal agreement or cohabitation contract. Dutch law does not regulate cohabitation contracts as such. Some Dutch laws (for example in the fields of tax and social security), however, attach certain legal consequences to the de facto cohabitation of two people (whether or not these cohabitants have signed a cohabitation contract), but never to the de facto cohabitation of three or more people. With respect to de facto (i.e. unregistered) cohabitation there has not been any recent change in Dutch law.

Had the right-wing caller been interested in getting at the truth, rather than the familiar “slippery slope” diversionary talking-point, he could have followed a source in the original misleading article, pointing to a more accurate September 23 report in the “Reformatorisch Dagblad” (which I am told is a small national daily newspaper in the Netherlands, aimed particularly at pietistic Christians).

As ever, the opponents of equality will claim the sky is falling. Don’t believe it. Same-sex couples seeking to marry are not saying “let’s have no rules.” They are saying, “let us have what you have — the freedom to marry the person we love with the same rules, same responsibilities, and same respect.”

*Read an email written by a reader in response to this post and Evan Wolfson’s reply to this personal email here:

ON THE HORIZON: Order and the Courts

Freedom To Marry -- E-Update Issue #1

The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, at the end of last week, like the unfolding tragedies in the wake of Katrina, underscores the stakes of getting involved in shaping the government we want and need. Quite simply, it matters who is making the decisions about what our government does — and it matters what their philosophy of government is and whether they have a commitment to the liberty, equality, and pursuit of happiness that are our birthright.

So far, as the Senate prepares to debate Judge John Roberts’s nomination to the Supreme Court, we’ve only had pieces of information about Roberts’s philosophy and political orientation, many of them troubling. We’ve learned that in memo after memo, on front after front, Roberts advocated a cramped and narrow view of what government can and should do to promote the equality, opportunities, and well-being of all Americans, particularly the vulnerable and the different. And although, while in private practice, Roberts provided some pro bono assistance in an important gay rights case, Romer v. Evans, it’s hard to know what to make of that.

As George W. Bush pursues his stated goal of turning the courts to the right for decades to come, all of us must insist that the Senate fulfill its duty of ensuring that any nominee to the Supreme Court has a commitment to three basic American principles:

  * Liberty — Does the nominee see the Constitution as embodying a right to personal freedom in important choices, also called the right to privacy or personal autonomy, with which government may only interfere if it can show sufficient justification beyond mere majoritarian disfavor or “morality”?
  * Equality — Will the nominee defend the full and equal rights and inclusion of minorities as well as the majority, assuring justice for all and non-arbitrary treatment?
  * Strong and independent courts — Is the nominee willing to fulfill the legitimate and vital role of the courts in standing up to legislative or executive excesses, or prejudices of the majority or passions of the moment, as an independent check and balance vindicating constitutional rights for all Americans?

As we scramble to offer relief to the victims of America’s most recent disaster, and demand answers to the political decisions and government policies that exacerbated it, it’s important to keep at least one eye on the prevention of another disaster. We should all urge our Senators, the media, and other leaders to press John Roberts, as well as whomever Bush nominates next, on these core duties. The burden is on the nominees to show that they are not seeking the seat in order to impose their own ideology, or a crabbed view of the Constitution, on Americans. No candidate should get a free pass to the Supreme Court without showing a commitment to liberty, equality, and the vital role of the courts.

STATEMENT: Nebraska Ruling

Freedom To Marry

On May 12, 2004, the federal district court in Nebraska found the state’s sweeping anti-gay constitutional amendment in violation of federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection, the first amendment, and other safeguards that protect every American against discrimination. The court struck down the barrier against gay families’ ability to do what every American has a right to do: seek changes in the law on a level playing-field so as to be treated equally.

Evan Wolfson comments on U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon’s ruling:

Government has no business putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for one another under law, and the court correctly found that Nebraska’s sweeping anti-gay constitutional amendment offended basic American values of fairness, equality, family protection, and access to the government.

The ongoing state-by-state campaign to fence gay people out of the polical process — and fence gay couples and their kids out of marriage and other forms of family protection are un-American and harmful — violates the bedrock principle that every American can work to change the law through the legislature, through local government, and through the courts on a level playing-field.

The constitutional amendments pushed by right-wing groups state by state to tie the hands of all states, all cities and government agencies, and all future generations to prevent any protection or fair treatment of gay family members — and to prevent gay Americans from even asking for any level of protection — are unconstitutional and un-American.

The court was right to do what courts are supposed to do — guarantee each of us our right to equal justice under law and equal citizenship in our country and home state.

Read the Nebraska ruling:

ANALYSIS: Is now really the right time to fight for the freedom to marry?

Freedom To Marry

In 2004 we ended the exclusion of committed same-sex couples from marriage here in the United States by winning the freedom to marry in Massachusetts. Thousands of U.S couples have gotten married in Canada as well as in Massachusetts, and the sky has not fallen. We have shown non-gay people we can do this, and we are also showing that families are strengthened and no one harmed when the exclusion comes to an end. All across the country, hearts and minds are opening as the fair-minded majority of Americans get the information and time they need to embrace fairness.

But it does take information, and it does take time.

Our opponents are trying to stampede people into making hasty, ill-informed decisions out of prejudice, ignorance, anxiety, discomfort or fear. History tells us that in the early stages of a civil rights struggle such as ours, opponents will have some successes.

As I’ve described elsewhere, the classic American pattern is that civil rights advances come in what I call “patchwork.” As described in my book, Why Marriage Matters, during patchwork periods, we see some states move toward equality faster, while others resist and regress, pressured by pandering politicians into adding additional layers of discrimination before — eventually — buyer’s remorse sets in and a national resolution comes. We cannot move the middle — we cannot end this exclusion — if we collude with our opponents in depriving those who are reachable (but not yet reached) of the time and information they need and deserve. This means we must not take “no” or “not now” or “not so fast” for an answer — any more than others in our nation’s past who sought to end discrimination did. We must not fail to push past discomfort to give people the real stories and the time to absorb them.

Nor is it our job to make it easy for politicians to do what they want. Rather, it is our job to make it easier for politicians to do what we want — and what many of them in their hearts know is the right thing to do. We should not expect them to do all our heavy lifting, but we must get in and enlist allies, stiffen the spine of our friends, help those whose causes we share to see that our common success depends on articulating a position of authenticity and shared values that lead to the right results. Most of all, we must raise our diverse voices to explain how the unjust exclusion from marriage and its responsibilities and protections harms us, our kids and our country itself.

In a shorter period of time than most people imagined, we have won the freedom to marry in America. We have made it real, which is the most important step in helping people to live with it (or realize they don’t care). Yes, we face a moment of peril as the opponents of equality assault us in fulfillment of their own anti-gay and broader ideological agendas, and we will take hits. But we have also seen the majority of Americans move toward accepting marriage equality, with a solid majority of young people supporting it.

In Massachusetts last November, voters who had a chance to live with marriage as a reality for even a few months rejected anti-equality candidates and reelected every pro-marriage legislator who ran. The key is making it real, not running away.

Democrats; progressives, fair-minded Republicans; and our other friends and potential allies will never be anti-gay enough to satisfy our opponents. We must help them find the authentic moral case for ending discrimination in marriage — well-expressed by yet another court this February: “Marriage, as it is understood today, is both a partnership of two loving equals who choose to commit themselves to each other and a state institution designed to promote stability for the couple and their children. ... Similar to opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples are entitled to the same fundamental right to follow their hearts and commit to a lifetime partnership with the person of their choosing ... [which] cannot legitimately be said to harm anyone.”

Equality under the law. Fairness. Commitment. Love. We must not doubt that we can reach most Americans on these values with patience and persistence — but we cannot reach them if we do not do the reaching. We must not shortchange them or ourselves.

Time and information are what they need, and now is the time.

Published in Planet Out, March 11, 2005.

ANALYSIS: What Do the Election Results mean for the Movement toward Marriage Equality?

Freedom To Marry

Some initial reflections…

The White House
A divided America went to the polls and it appears that George W. Bush has won this very close race. Bush will now have a third chance to fulfill his claimed desire to be “a uniter, not a divider” — a chance he squandered following his accession to power amidst divisions in 2000 and, again, following the surge of national unity post-September 11, when he chose to conduct his first term as the most deliberately divisive president in American history.

During the campaign, Bush embraced an unprecedented assault on the Constitution for political purposes, becoming the first president to call for amending our nation’s most precious document so as to take rights away from a group of Americans. His campaign operatives also unleashed a state-by-state campaign of attacks on gay families to deny marriage rights and roll back other legal protections for same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexuals (more on this below). He willfully blurred the line between religious rites of marriage, properly up to each house of worship without government interference, and the legal right to marry, which government should assure with equality to all.

And yet despite this cruel strategy, in the closing days of the campaign Bush pointedly distanced himself from his own party’s sweepingly anti-gay platform and, sincerely or not, declared his support for civil unions and other legal protections short of equality in marriage for gay Americans.

  “I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do.”
  — George W. Bush, interviewed by ABC’s Charles Gibson (10/24/2004)

Most analysts read this as a testament to the powerful momentum toward ending discrimination against gay people and their families furthered by the marriage debate, and an indication of where the center of the country is in its movement toward equality.

Will Bush, his allies and operatives, and his base continue their attacks on gay people and the state constitutions, or move to reduce or end discrimination against Mary Cheney and America’s other gay sons and daughters? Time will tell.

State-by-state attacks
It appears that the right-wing’s fierce onslaught on gay families, which in 2004 took the form of over a dozen attack amendments to state constitutions, was unstoppable in the short term. On November 2, eleven states ratified amendments barring the right to marry and, in eight of the measures, any other legal protections for their same-sex couples, unmarried heterosexuals, and their children.

Painful as these discriminatory measures will be for families and those who love them in these states; for businesses who recognize that discrimination undermines the ability to create productive and competitive workplaces; and for our nation, once again made a house divided by the opponents of civil rights equality, they will not stop our advance toward marriage equality.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  * Thirty-eight years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about what some described as a “backlash” against the civil rights movement.

  “There really is no white backlash, because that gives the impression that the nation had decided it was going to solve this problem and then there was a step back because of developments in the civil rights movement. Now, the fact is that America has been backlashing on the civil rights question for centuries now… The backlash is merely the surfacing of prejudices, of hostilities, of hatreds and fears that already existed and they are just now starting to open.”
  — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Seventh Annual Gandhi Memorial Lecture,” Howard University, Washington, D.C., (11/6/1966)

What we saw on November 2nd. was no “backlash.” As our civil rights movement works to end discrimination, we are in a struggle with today’s opponents of equality, who do not believe in an America where all have equality under the law; a place where differences, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are respected for all; a nation that honors the separation of church and state; a country that sees men and women as equal and equally able to build lives with the partner of their choice. That struggle will not be won (or lost) overnight.

  * In fact, despite the expected defeats in these eleven battles, we are winning the struggle. As I wrote a month before the election, we can’t expect to win in every state simultaneously — no civil rights movement in American ever has. Exit polls yesterday showed 60% of the American people now support marriage equality or civil unions, an astonishing increase from just a decade ago. And as long as we continue to advance and secure the freedom to marry in more states, our critical task in the months ahead, wins trump losses.
  * Though our opponents were attacking gay people’s right to marry and legal equality, our side in most of these battles did not have the resources and time to really talk about gay lives and marriage rights in humanizing ways. We can’t be surprised to have taken these losses; in some ways we hadn’t yet begun to fully engage in these states, and didn’t give the fair-minded middle a chance to take a deep breath, hear the stories and see the faces of the real families affected by anti-gay discrimination, think it through, and embrace the need for change to end discrimination. Where we came closest to mounting that kind of engaged campaign, in Oregon, we came closest to winning.
  * This necessary discussion that will move the middle can start now in all fifty states, including those waking up to a loss today. Building on what we were able to achieve in the short-term electoral campaigns, we can engage in a true campaign of winning hearts and minds… and thus, from Ohio to Oregon, from Michigan to Mississippi, prove that we know how to lose forward as well as win.
  * It isn’t over in any state; our work has just begun. If we can move even George Bush to profess support for civil unions — something that didn’t even exist five years ago — we can surely continue to move the middle toward fairness. (For example, in Massachusetts yesterday pro-equality candidates won, voters having had a chance to see the reality of marriage equality and embrace it.) In all fifty states, including many where we were temporarily outmatched this time, we can push past attacks to talk about our families and fairness and thus bring on buyer’s remorse. (For example, see last night’s repeal of the anti-gay ballot measure in Cincinnati, where voters had a chance to experience discrimination and came to reject it.) The key is to engage, not surrender.

What comes next?
In the months ahead, the marriage equality movement — gay and non-gay organizations working through diverse methodologies (outreach, alliance-building, discussion, litigation, legislation) in many states as well as nationally — has to do the following:

  * — Continue to secure marriage equality in more states, alongside Massachusetts, Canada, and other leading democracies in Europe and other parts of the world
  * — Repel anti-gay attacks, whether at the state or national level, whether in the form of bad laws or dangerous constitutional amendments
  * — Contest the appointment of judges not committed to equality for all, and defend the independence of the courts whose constitutional role is to stand up against the prejudices of even the majority and the passions of the moment
  * — Continue to speak to and reach out to more non-gay allies… and especially youth, who are on our side — and enable them to find their voice and vote

During the first Bush term — even with Republican control of Congress, reckless assaults on the courts and gay people, and an unprecedented attempt to polarize Americans along religious lines for political purposes — even amidst all that, we won the right to marry in Massachusetts and a Supreme Court ruling, written by a Reagan appointee, that the day of the “gay exception” to equality is over. In a second Bush term, whatever our opponents do, we can and will win, if we engage.

Our battle is here, it’s not going away, the time is now, and the truth shall set us — and our nation — free.


“Which comes closest to your view of gay and lesbian couples?”

(In the sample, 3% self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; 97% did not.)

  * They should be allowed to legally marry: 25% (of which 76% voted for Kerry, and 22% for Bush, 1% for Nader);
  * They should be allowed to legally form civil unions, but not marry: 35% (of which 47% voted for Kerry, 52% for Bush, 0% for Nader);
  * There should be no legal recognition of their relationships: 36% (of which 29% voted for Kerry, 70% for Bush, 0% for Nader)

— Conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for ABC, the Associated Press, CBS, CNN, Fox, and NBC News.

ANALYSIS: The wrong thing to do: Clinton’s anti-gay advice


According to the November 15th issue of Newsweek, former President Bill Clinton urged Senator John Kerry to support state anti-gay constitutional amendments, though not the federal initiative:

  Clinton Advice Spurned — “Looking for a way to pick up swing voters in the Red States, former President Bill Clinton, in a phone call with Kerry, urged the Senator to back local bans on gay marriage. Kerry respectfully listened, then told his aides,‘I’m not going to ever do that.’”

Evan Wolfson comments: If this is true, it was bad advice from the president who was effective in small-bore outmaneuvering the right-wingers, but not in blocking their advances at every level of government. It was bad advice both because it is immoral and wrong on the merits, and because it would not have worked.

  * As the defeat of Senate candidates Brad Carlson (OK) and Inez Tenenbaum (SC) showed us yet again (and as I argued in our candidate advisory a year before the election ), Kerry would never have been sufficiently anti-gay to appease the anti-gays. Remember, this civil rights debate in our country is really not about marriage; it’s about gay people and whether we should have any place in American life, period.
  * Trying to “triangulate” and take an anti-gay position in favor of discriminatory amendments would have cost Kerry among his base and among Americans who do respect equality and gay rights, while not satisfying the anti’s.
  * Had Kerry tried to embrace blatantly discriminatory amendments (most of which denied not just marriage but all legal protections) while preserving even a modicum of his core (and correct) position in support of gay Americans’ rights and families, he would have been labeled (again) a flip-flopper. And the incoherence of such a position would have exacerbated Kerry’s inability to do what Bush appears to have done in many people’s eyes: articulate a clear message (even one people disagree with) and exhibit core principles he is willing to fight for — character traits that they ultimately respect and connect with.
  * Finally, supporting the use of constitutions to discriminate against a group of Americans is the wrong thing to do — cruel, unAmerican, and unconstitutional, as well as inconsistent with the vision the Democratic party (and even the Republican party for much of its history) has stood for.

ANALYSIS: How will same-sex couples legally married in Massachusetts, Canada, or elsewhere be treate

Why Marriage Matters, by Evan Wolfson

Past battles over marriage and divorce show a pattern. For a period of time, there will be a patchwork of law and responses…

We Americans don’t think of marriage certificates as being like tickets that need to be validated before leaving the parking lot at the shopping mall, or like passports we have to get stamped when we cross an international border. Once a couple is married, they’re married, and they live their lives as what they are—a legally married couple—regardless of where they held their wedding and regardless of where they live or travel.

Currently, only 26 states allow first-cousins to marry each other. But do those married first-cousins worry about whether their marriage is “recognized” if they move to or visit one of the 24 states that don’t allow first-cousin marriages? Nope. Their marriages are considered marriages regardless of where they live or travel; no one today thinks the reasons to discriminate against their marriages outweigh the logic of respecting their families and marital status.

This cooperation between states is called “comity,” and it is a result of states realizing—on a voluntary, rational, thinking-it-out basis—that there are simply better and more valuable reasons for honoring people’s marriages than there are for destabilizing them.

It’s common sense: We don’t want couples to have to worry if they’re married or not depending on where they are. We don’t want kids to worry whether their parents are still married when they go on vacation. And we don’t want banks and businesses to wonder whether their contracts are still good if their customers have crossed a border.

For more than 200 years of American history, states have taken these sound policy reasons for honoring marriages and made them into a general principle of law—a marriage that is valid where celebrated will generally be honored elsewhere, even in a place that would not itself have performed the marriage.

Even in the era of interracial marriage bans, when many states made it illegal to marry someone of the “wrong” race, they still almost always honored those marriages performed elsewhere. Even states (like the Lovings’ Virginia) that made it a crime to perform such marriages or to engage in such a marriage in their state—the harshest form of legal disapproval—generally understood that when married couples were traveling from one state to another or were moving from one part of the country to another, their marriages should be left intact.

Battles over marriage and divorce in the past show us the historical pattern for what is to come. For a period of time, there will be a patchwork. Some states will honor the marriages between gay or lesbian couples because it makes no sense to sunder them and is wrong to treat one group of Americans’ marriages differently from all others. Equally predictably, for a time other states—the resisters—will succumb to the right-wing crusade to reinforce their existing anti-gay laws and the denial of any protections or support to gay families. The anti-gay campaign formally underway since 1996 will continue its drive to make America a “house divided” in pursuit of these groups’ own “culture war” agenda and political purposes. Employers, businesses, officials, and courts will grapple with the new reality of married couples standing before them, and some will find themselves constrained by discriminatory laws to deny these families, while others will find a way to do the right thing. The federal government, because of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” will, for a time, discriminate—second-class marriages for second-class citizens.

There will be litigation—though for every case in court there will be thousands of other day-to-day moments in which gay married couples and their kids encounter a mix of respect, discrimination, and uncertainty from the institutions and neighbors they deal with. Some of the discrimination and refusal to honor the marriages will be ugly, painful, and injurious; people will lose their jobs, face deportation, be denied health coverage, and more.

To guide same-sex couples in making decisions about how to deal with this discrimination, all of the leading lesbian and gay legal groups—Lambda Legal, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the ACLU Lesbian/Gay Rights Project—have prepared advisories and Q&A’s, which can be found on Freedom to Marry’s website.

But faced with real, live, and legally married couples and their kids, more and more people, even recalcitrant states, and eventually the federal government will over time generally tend toward honoring these marriages. And the law will change, as the reality that ending marriage discrimination helps families and harms no one continues to sink in, and as more and more Americans in more and more states are touched, once again, by the better angels of their nature.

Never before in all this country’s history of civil rights battles over marriage, never before amid all the discrepancies from state to state over who can marry whom and whether to permit divorce, never before has a president proposed to rewrite the federal Constitution so as to end the discussion or take the decision away from the states, lawmakers, and the courts. Bad as it is to force families to deal with a mix of respect, discrimination, and uncertainty such as inheres in a patchwork period, it would be worse to deprive states, our nation, and future generations of the chance to make thoughtful decisions about marriage equality.

America is one country, not fifty separate kingdoms. If you’re married, you’re married. Common sense.

Excerpted from Evan Wolfson’s book “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry” (Simon & Schuster, July 2004)

ANALYSIS: Why are the polls on ‘gay marriage’ so inconsistent?

Freedom to Marry

It’s all about the ‘moveable middle,’ that group of Americans who are genuinely wrestling with divided impulses. The way a question is framed leads to highly changeable survey outcomes as these individuals grapple with deep feelings about fairness, discrimination, and American equality.

It seems as if almost every week we see a new poll on how Americans feel about the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Here are some points to remember about polling:

A poll is just a glimpse of how people say they feel at a given moment, and does not indicate how they will feel when they come to hear more information or as events progress. Polls are snapshots, but what really counts is the movie — the trend and momentum. And in the decade that Americans have been discussing ending discrimination in marriage, the trend toward acceptance of equality is undeniable.

Most national polls these days show that the public supports providing the components of marriage (health coverage, inheritance, Social Security, etc.) to same-sex couples and their families; oppose discriminatory amendments to the Constitution (such as the Musgrave amendment pushed by the White House); and is divided on whether to end marriage discrimination — with opposition generally in the 50 or 60% range, depending on how the poll is conducted and framed.

At the same time, polls in particular states (for example, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York) and of particular parts of the population (younger people, women, Democrats, Independent voters, more highly educated) have shown majority support for marriage equality. And more than two-thirds of the American people believe that gay people will win the freedom to marry, which means that on a gut-level they understand that the sky won’t fall when this discrimination ends.

It is, of course, particularly significant that nearly every poll shows strong support among younger people for ending marriage discrimination. History and time are on the side of equality (which is why right-wing groups are pushing constitutional amendments to try to cement discrimination into our governing documents so as to tie the hands of future generations and all states).

Still, we do see fluctuations in many of the national polls that come out — and here’s why:

The country right now is divided roughly in thirds. One third supports equality for gay people, including the freedom to marry. Another third is not just adamantly against marriage for same-sex couples, but, indeed, opposes gay people and homosexuality, period. This group is against any measure of protection or recognition for lesbians and gay men, whether it be marriage or anything else.

And then there is the “middle” third — the reachable-but-not-yet-reached middle.

The reason the polls are inconsistent is because, on both a micro- and macro- level, this middle third gives different answers. Micro-, in that how the poll asks the questions and uses different words can literally invite a different response. And macro-, in the sense that these Americans are genuinely wrestling with this civil rights question and have divided impulses and feelings to sort through. How they frame the question for themselves brings them to different outcomes; their thinking is evolving as they grapple with the need for change to end discrimination in America.

To appeal to the better angels of their nature, we owe it to these friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens to help them understand the question of marriage equality through two truths:

Truth 1 — Ending marriage discrimination is, first and foremost, about couples in love who have made a personal commitment to each other, who are doing the hard work of marriage in their lives, caring for one another and their kids, if any. (Think couples like Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon who’ve been together more than fifty years.) Now these people, having in truth made a personal commitment to each other, want and deserve a legal commitment.

Once the discussion has a human story, face, and voice, fair-minded people are ready to see through a second frame:

Truth 2 — The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is discrimination; it is wrong, it is unfair, to deny these couples and families marriage and its important tangible and intangible protections and responsibilities. America has had to make changes before to end discrimination and unfair treatment, and government should not be denying any American equality under the law.

In our conversations and work now, we should reinforce these truths and develop messages so as to reach the middle at this crucial moment. Non-gay allies clearly can help deliver reinforcing messages from both perspectives:

  * talking about families they know and care about, couples they have counseled or worked with, etc.; asking how ending discrimination will harm anyone else’s marriage;
  * and sharing the conviction that, as citizens and neighbors, we have a responsibility to stand up against discrimination and work to support families and build stronger communities for all.

It is also important to clearly highlight that the freedom to marry movement is challenging discrimination in legal or “civil” marriage. We must not blur the distinction between the right to marry and religious marriage rites protected by the First Amendment. Religious leaders and people of faith can play a crucial role in helping make the distinction clear, while speaking in a discourse of love, humanity, pastoral care and community support, etc., that supports both truths. We want our neighbors to understand that ending the exclusion from marriage for committed same-sex couples will help families while harming no one.

America’s government rests on a pair of ideas that together make one of our country’s greatest contributions to human freedom. They are:

  1. the idea of democratic votes and majority rule, and
  2. the equally important idea that not everything gets put up to a vote, that there are certain basic rights and protections that belong to each individual and cannot be taken away even by the majority.

We Americans count on our Constitution and courts to safeguard the inalienable rights guaranteed to all of us.

It took from 1776 until 1948 before any court in the country had the courage to strike down the ban on interracial marriage. When the California Supreme Court became the first to strike down race discrimination in marriage (by a 4-3 vote, much like the 2003 Massachusetts ruling ending sex discrimination in marriage), polls showed 90% of the public opposed marriage equality for interracial couples. As late as 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally made the same ruling nationwide, the polls showed 70% opposed.

Imagine the injury to our nation if the opposition had prevailed with arguments like “let the people vote” or attacks on “activist judges,” and had written discrimination into our Constitution. Would we ever have secured the equality and freedom that most of us consider to be our nation’s commitment and defining greatness?

Finally, polls, as we said earlier, are only snapshots. Whatever people think they think today about marriage equality for same-sex couples, they will think differently when it is a reality and not just a hypothetical or scary right-wing rhetoric. As The New York Times said in an April 2, 2004 editorial:

  “[O]pposition might melt away if some state had the courage to legalize gay marriage and everyone could see that it posed no threat whatever to heterosexual unions.”

That is the history of our country, and history is on our side. Massachusetts and other states are about to show the country married same-sex couples, families helped, and no one hurt. The polls will follow.

Advancing Toward Equality in Marriage

Unitarian Universalist Association

Non-gay allies are vitally needed and have much to offer in the civil rights struggle for marriage equality for same-sex couples. It is crucial that diverse non-gay people, clergy, and opinion-leaders who support the goal of marriage equality speak out in the public arena.

President Bush’s State of the Union - Letter to the Editor

New York Times

Politicians who want to amend the Constitution to discriminate in marriage are the greatest threat to American families and values.

To the Editor:

President Bush, in his State of the Union speech, barely finished claiming that he had brought freedom to Iraqis before he threatened to embrace a proposed constitutional amendment that would deny gay Americans the freedom to marry and other important family protections (front page, Jan. 21).

But discrimination has no place in government, in marriage or in the Constitution.

Politicians who play with fire near our country’s most precious document are the greatest threat to American families and values.

All Americans, gay and non-gay, deserve respect and support for their families and basic freedoms.

Government should not be putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones. And candidates, president or otherwise, should be uniting the American people, not dividing us, at a time of challenge for freedom in the world.

ANALYSIS: What’s all this talk about amending the Constitution?

Freedom to Marry

The Constitution safeguards every person’s basic freedom and our nation’s unity. Since 1791 the Constitution has only been amended 17 times, but never before to take away rights or equality from any group of Americans. Here’s what’s behind this political effort….

The Constitution of the United States is a treasured safeguard for every person’s basic freedom and for our nation’s unity. Generations of Americans have fought for and respected this charter of freedom. Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the Constitution has only been amended seventeen times — never to take away rights or equality from any group of Americans.

Now, under fierce pressure from right-wing groups hostile to gay people and opposed to the separation of church and state, some politicians are flirting with a proposed anti-gay amendment that would cement discrimination into the Constitution. The current version circulating in Congress and not repudiated by the White House reads:

  “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

This sweeping anti-gay amendment is intended to do two things:

  1. intrude the federal government into the regulation of marriage to prevent all states and all future generations from providing marriage equality to committed same-sex couples, no matter what, and
  2. prevent state and local governments, as well as the federal government and in many cases private employers, from providing any other measure of protection (“the legal incidents” of marriage”) to gay people and their families as well as other unmarried Americans and their children.

There is nothing conservative about this effort to write anti-gay discrimination into the Constitution. For that reason, many conservative voices have spoken out against this political abuse of the Constitution, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Senators Chuck Hagel and Jon Ensign, columnist George Will, and even former Congressman Bob Barr (author of the 1996 federal law discriminating against gay people’s marriages).

Our nation’s founders wisely made it very difficult to amend the Constitution. Amendments require approval of two-thirds of the Senate and House and three-quarters of the state legislatures. But right-wing groups are mobilizing millions of dollars in this election-year to stampede politicians around the country and intimidate judges. They recklessly attack courts for following the law and upholding constitutional protections for all Americans.

Discrimination has no place in government, in marriage or in the Constitution. Politicians who play with fire near our nation’s most precious document are the greatest threat to American families and values. All Americans, gay and non-gay, deserve respect and support for their families and basic freedoms. Government should not be putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones. And candidates, president or otherwise, should be uniting the American people, not dividing us, at a time of challenge for freedom in the world.

For information on the anti-gay groups pushing this attack:

NGLTF’s ANALYSIS OF THE ANTI-GAY RIGHT: Are They Really Interested in ‘Building Strong and Healthy Marriages?’ (pdf)
October 2003
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s (NGLTF) examination of the organizations promoting “Marriage Protection Week” concludes that these groups are well-funded and politically powerful—they put out a lot of anti-gay rhetoric while having little “actual focus on marriage and families.”

ANALYSIS: Why should I be for ‘gay marriage’?

Freedom to Marry

We are asking for marriage, not “gay marriage” — the same rules, the same responsibilities, the same protections, the same dignity, the same commitment, the same opportunity to declare your love for another person with whom you build a life.

Americans believe in fairness, freedom, and equality for all. Most of us also cherish family and recognize how important it is to each human being to have security and protections for our loved ones as we build lives together. Most Americans believe that the freedom to marry strengthens families, and that supporting families builds stronger communities for us all. And most Americans are coming to understand that gay people, like other human beings, want security, respect, and equality, treasure our families, and want and need the freedom to marry.

We are asking for marriage, not “gay marriage” — that’s the short-hand term that our opponents use to make gay people’s families seem different or lesser. The truth is we’re working for an end to discrimination in marriage itself — the same rules and responsibilities, the same protections, the same dignity, the same commitment, the same opportunity to declare your love for another person with whom you build a life. Same-sex couples want the equal choice — the freedom to marry — not two lines at the clerk’s office for separate and unequal treatment.

There are many reasons to support the marriage equality movement. The children raised by same-sex couples need and deserve the protections and security marriage can bring to their families. Along with marriage’s responsibilities come certain financial benefits that make life easier, especially in a difficult economy. From government tax incentives to cheaper “family membership” rates, from the ability to assure a spouse’s health care in times of crisis to the right to inherit his or her hard-earned pension or Social Security — these are just a few aspects of economic well-being available to married couples that gay couples are legally prevented from sharing.

In a democracy founded upon the principles of fairness, there is no justice in being barred from marriage, a legal institution regulated by the government through the issuance of marriage licenses. Freedom of religion ensures that each religion can decide for itself whether or not to marry any particular couple, but no religion should dictate to government who gets a marriage license. If gay people are considered equal citizens when it comes to paying taxes and obeying laws, then we should have access to the same marital rights held by other citizens.

This is not the first time our country has struggled over exclusion from and discrimination in marriage. Previous chapters in American history have seen race discrimination in marriage (ended only in 1967), laws making wives legally inferior to husbands (changed as late as the 1970’s and 1980’s), resistance to allowing people to end failed or abusive marriages through divorce (fought over in the 1940’s and 1950’s), and even a refusal to allow married and unmarried people make their own decisions about whether to use contraception or raise children (decided in 1965).

In each of these struggles, opponents of equality claimed that the proposed change was “against the definition of marriage” and “against God’s will.” Many of the same gloom-and-doom claims are made today by the same kind of opponents, now seeking to prevent loving same-sex couples from taking on the legal commitment of marriage. Fortunately, our country rejected the “sky is falling” claims of opponents and made marriage a more inclusive and fair commitment of equals. As the Massachusetts court and others have made clear, government simply has no good reason for continuing to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.

We invite you to join with Freedom to Marry, the gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide. This website will provide you with a wealth of information about us, and the history of our struggle, including information from those whose opinions differ from ours.

Working together, we can win the freedom to marry for all citizens.

ADVISORY: Advice to Candidates

Freedom To Marry

TO: Those Advising Candidates
FROM: Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
DATE: November 21, 2003
RE: Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples

The American people are engaged in an important discussion about families and children, and marriage equality for same-sex couples is part of that discussion. With hundreds of same-sex couples, including many Americans, already married in Canada since June and now the historic ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in favor of full marriage equality, the dialogue about gay people’s freedom to marry is not going away.

Recent articles in the Washington Post and New York Times indicate that right-wing political groups are pushing hard to make gay people’s equality, including the freedom to marry, a wedge issue in the 2004 elections. A substantial number of moderate and independent-minded voters in all parties oppose excluding same-sex couples from marriage and its tangible and intangible protections and responsibilities because of the harm the exclusion causes existing and future families. Many more oppose the resultant creation of second-class citizenship in the United States. Many more oppose attacks on families, including proposals to amend the Constitution.

Same-sex couples will be married in Massachusetts no later than next summer (in addition to those already married in Canada, where the sky has not fallen).

No candidate for office will be able to ignore this debate or the right-wing’s attempt to polarize and divide the country around this and other social issues. For candidates, a strategy to handle the question is politically essential as well as morally and substantively desirable. It is important for candidates to be able to talk about fairness and equality without diverting their campaigns from other matters about which the American people are understandably most concerned — national security and the economy.

Here is a suggested answer on marriage that addresses the concerns of all those who believe in equal rights for all Americans and their families, including same-sex couples and children with gay parents:

  I recognize and value the dignity and worth of all families. I believe in marriage and the good it offers society, and respect those who accept the commitment, protections, and responsibilities of marriage. Allowing same-sex couples to share that commitment does nothing to diminish my marriage with my wife (or husband).

  Freedom of religion means that churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions may decide whether to marry any particular couple. But a democratic and constitutional government should not discriminate as to which couples get a marriage license. Government should not be putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones, nor should government create unequal classes of citizens.

  America is strongest when we support all our people equally and build strong communities. Because I believe in fairness and families, I support the responsibilities and security of marriage for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.
  I disagree with those who would use this question to divide the American people in order to distract from the economy and foreign policy. The majority of Americans believe in equal rights and protections for their fellow citizens, and so do I.

Candidates best serve themselves — and the nation — by simply embracing full marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Here’s why:
1. Ending discrimination in marriage is the right thing to do.

The arguments put forward to justify the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage do not hold up. To mention just a few:

  * Claim: Marriage is a religious institution, and government recognition of “gay marriage” would violate religious liberties.

  Fact: No church or clergy should, or would, be compelled to recognize gay unions (just as they need not allow divorced people to remarry, or need not perform a wedding of an interfaith couple, if they choose not to).

  At issue here is marriage — a legal institution regulated by the government. Every year, at least 40% of heterosexual couples in the United States get married without a church, synagogue, mosque or religious ceremony. The First Amendment plainly protects the right of people of faith to organize themselves according to their own beliefs and traditions, but it also rightly bars religious interference in who gets a marriage license.

  * Claim: Civil unions, domestic partnership, or other non-marriage alternatives for gay people are good enough.

  Fact: Separate and unequal is un-American. Non-marriage alternatives for gay people provide only some of the thousands of legal and economic protections that come with marriage at the federal and state level, not to mention in the private sector. Civil union and domestic partnership fail to provide the clarity and security that comes with marriage, the portability and respect families need as they travel or do business outside their state, and the basic dignity and vocabulary of equality and love that our society expresses through the institution of marriage. Even the most sweeping partnership law (California) and civil union law (Vermont) do not provide gay families basic federal protections such as Social Security, tax equity, and immigration rights.

  * Claim: Marriage exists to promote procreation.

  Fact: Millions of non-gay married Americans are in non-procreative marriages (think Bob and Elizabeth Dole, or George and Martha Washington). At the same time, many same-sex couples are raising kids. It makes no sense to punish these children for having the “wrong” kind of parents, or withhold the structure of marriage from those parents. Justice Scalia conceded the weakness of this argument in the recent Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas.1

  * Claim: Letting gay citizens wed would weaken the institution of marriage.

  Fact: To the extent our society believes — as conservatives have argued — that marriage promotes stability, fidelity, and community, why would that not be true for same-sex couples as well? Gays will not use up all the marriage licenses, or discourage any non-gay couple from entering into their own loving, committed relationships. Even Bob Barr, sponsor of the 1996 federal anti-marriage law, now concedes as much, and Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands show that societies can accord equality without the sky falling.

There is simply no logical or constitutional reason why gay couples should not have access to the same basic civil right to marry that the Supreme Court has said may not be denied, for example, to deadbeat dads or convicted felons. And there is no good reason for maintaining discrimination that harms real families and young lives.
2. A significant base of Americans supports equality.

More than two-thirds of Americans believe that gay people will win the freedom to marry.2 The polls are in flux and trends on marriage equality are positive. Looking at the national aggregate, the country is now in fact about evenly divided over support for full marriage for gay and lesbian Americans.3 Though a majority does not yet support marriage equality, the majority is ready to accept it.4

Providing the components of marriage (i.e., particular protections and responsibilities) to gay families, and certain themes (equality, government not putting obstacles in families’ paths, fairness for families) show majority support. And substantial majorities oppose discriminatory measures or attacks on gay families, including proposals to amend the Constitution.5

Key elements of the population are even stronger supporters. Registered Democrats, independent voters, likely voters, women, young people, and majorities in key states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, for example) all support marriage equality.6
3. Half-solutions only prolong the questioning, satisfying no one.

The best way to deal with an inevitable, controversial issue is to face it forthrightly and give a principled clear answer that frees candidates up to move to other subjects, rather than bogging down in a series of questions about an inconsistent or convoluted half-solution.

Trying to avoid supporting marriage equality by suggesting other, lesser solutions only invites further questions about how such an arrangement would be defined, what form it would take, how it differs from marriage, whether states or the federal government do or do not have to do something, whether there is a new bureaucracy that has to recreate what marriage already does, why a candidate is not for full equality or, conversely, why the candidates does not then support a constitutional amendment walling off marriage, etc. As with the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” discriminatory policy, the straddling answer will satisfy no one, and the candidate will have spent time that could have been spent on preferred themes and issues.
4. Any candidate not anti-gay will be tagged as the “gay marriage” candidate anyway.

If a candidate has endorsed legal recognition of gay relationships in any form, the right-wing is going to attack him or her as being for “gay marriage” anyway. Subtle distinctions are not likely to persuade conservatives to support a fairness candidate, and will only disappoint the majority of the candidate’s own base and the many independent voters who tend disproportionately to be libertarian in their outlook. By standing on clear principle and throwing the challenge back, candidates for fairness can reverse the wedge and force opponents to deal with the overreaching of the anti-gay forces in their base.7

Candidates should reframe the discussion as being about fairness vs.division, and not cede ground to the opposition: “My position is pro-marriage; my opponent’s is anti-gay.”

Ending discrimination in marriage is both right and inevitable. Any other solutions condemn gay Americans as second-class citizens, both separate and unequal, harming families and the country. Candidates of any party can stand with young people, majorities of likely voters, and history on the right side of this civil rights struggle, supporting equality and strong families, a side that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace. And in so doing, candidates can show themselves to be principled leaders and devote the bulk of their time to the themes and issues most central to their campaigns.

1 Lawrence v. Texas, June 26, 2003 (Scalia, J., dissenting)(“what the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution,’ [citation omitted]? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.”).

2 NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1999.

3 Gallup, Sept. 19-21, 2003 (USA Today, Oct. 6, 2003: “While 48% of those surveyed say allowing gay unions ‘will change our society for the worse,’ 50% say they would be an improvement or have no effect.”). Of course, there is not yet overall majority support, and polls differ depending on how and where the question is asked.

4 Hart Research/American Viewpoint, July 2003.

5 Hart Research/American Viewpoint July 2003; ABC News Poll, Sept. 3-7, 2003.

6 E.g., Decision Research, Oct. 16-22, 2003 (“By a 59% to 35% margin, Massachusetts voters say gay or lesbian couples should have the right to enter into marriage. Support levels include 55% of Catholic voters, 62% of women, 57% of men, and at least 56% in every region of the state. Voters see a ban on gay marriage as discrimination.”).

7 E.g., Washington Times, Sept. 23, 2003 (quoting Republican Party chair Ed Gillespie: “I have a hard time distinguishing between civil union and gay marriage.”). Our opponents are against any recognition for same-sex couples, whatever it is called, and label any position that is inclusive of gay people a “slippery slope” to full equality (not to mention the decline and fall of the nation). Candidates can challenge opponents as discriminatory and against basic protections, equality, and fairness that solid majorities favor.

For Richer, For Poorer: Same-Sex Couples and the Freedom to Marry as a Civil Right

Drum Major Institute

Excluding same-sex couples from the economic and social benefits of marriage harms the most vulnerable, those of lesser means, immigrants, people who are ill, and children.

Appendix B: Discrimination: Protections Denied To Same-Sex Couples and their Kids

Why Marriage Matters, by Evan Wolfson

As we have seen, most couples marry for love and the desire to reinforce the personal commitment they have made to each other. Most also want the public statement of commitment and support that marriage offers. The intangible benefits that marriage offers many families include clarity, security, structure, dignity, spiritual significance, and an expectation of permanence, dedication, and stability. Like most non-gay couples, most same-sex couples share these aspirations and needs.

In addition, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office, there are at least 1,138 tangible benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities that marriage brings couples and their kids—and that’s just at the federal level. Add in state and local law, and the policies of businesses, employers, universities, and other institutions, and it is clear that the denial of marriage to couples and their kids makes a substantial impact on every area of life, from raising kids, building a life together, and caring for one another, to retirement, death, and inheritance. Most of these cannot be secured by private agreement or through lawyers.

Here are just some of the ways in which government’s denying the freedom to marry punishes couples and families by depriving them of critical tangible as well as intangible protections and responsibilities in virtually every area of life:

  * Death: If a couple is not married and one partner dies, the other partner is not entitled to bereavement leave from work, to file wrongful death claims, 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.
  * Debts: Unmarried partners do not generally have responsibility for each other’s debt.
  * Divorce: Unmarried couples do not have access to the courts, structure, or guidelines in times of break-up, including rules for how to handle shared property, child support, and alimony, or protecting the weaker party and kids.
  * Family leave: Unmarried couples are often not covered by laws and policies that permit people to take medical leave to care for a sick spouse or for the kids.
  * Health: Unlike spouses, unmarried partners are usually not considered next of kin for the purposes of hospital visitation and emergency medical decisions. In addition, they can’t cover their families on their health plans without paying taxes on the coverage, nor are they eligible for Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
  * Housing: Denied marriage, couples of lesser means are not recognized and thus can be denied or disfavored in their applications for public housing.
  * Immigration: U.S. residency and family unification are not available to an unmarried partner from another country.
  * Inheritance: Unmarried surviving partners do not automatically inherit property should their loved one die without a will, nor do they get legal protection for inheritance rights such as elective share or bypassing the hassles and expenses of probate court.
  * Insurance: Unmarried partners can’t always sign up for joint home and auto insurance. In addition, many employers don’t cover domestic partners or their biological or non-biological children in their health insurance plans.
  * Portability: Unlike marriages, which are honored in all states and countries, domestic partnerships and other alternative mechanisms only exist in a few states and countries, are not given any legal acknowledgment in most, and leave families without the clarity and security of knowing what their legal status and rights will be.
  * Parenting: Unmarried couples are denied the automatic right to joint parenting, joint adoption, joint foster care, and visitation for non-biological parents. In addition, the children of unmarried couples are denied the guarantee of child support and an automatic legal relationship to both parents, and are sometimes sent a wrongheaded but real negative message about their own status and family.
  * Privilege: Unmarried couples are not protected against having to testify against each other in judicial proceedings, and are also usually denied the coverage in crime victims counseling and protection programs afforded married couples.
  * Property: Unmarried couples are excluded from special rules that permit married couples to buy and own property together under favorable terms, rules that protect married couples in their shared homes and rules regarding the distribution of the property in the event of death or divorce.
  * Retirement: In addition to being denied access to shared or spousal benefits through Social Security as well as coverage under Medicare and other programs, unmarried couples are denied withdrawal rights and protective tax treatment given to spouses with regard to IRA’s and other retirement plans.
  * Taxes: Unmarried couples cannot file joint tax returns and are excluded from tax benefits and claims specific to marriage. In addition, they are denied the right to transfer property to one another and pool the family’s resources without adverse tax consequences.

Chapter 3: Women as Legally Subordinate to Their Husbands

Why Marriage Matters, by Evan Wolfson

For much of this country’s early history, government enforced the common rule of “coverture” when it came to marriages. This doctrine, by which a woman’s identity was “covered” by that or her husband—essentially reducing her to his chattel or property—grew out of civilization’s agrarian period, when a family was dependent on all of its members to make the family business, the farm, work effectively and efficiently. To maintain social order at a time when only men could vote, society gave husbands the preeminent authority at home as well.

The husband’s absolute authority required that his wife give up all of hers upon exchanging vows. Any property she owned, whether she acquired it before or after the marriage, became his. And, because the husband was the sole representative of his family unit, married women also lost their rights as citizens to sign contracts or to sue or be sued individually.

Just as the industrial revolution dismantled society’s agrarian patterns, it encouraged women to stand up to these archaic legal doctrines. As women took their place in city sweatshops, they balked when their husbands pocketed their paltry wages. It was especially galling when even cheating—or imprisoned—men could stake legal claim on their wives take-home pay, as was the case in 1857, when a Massachusetts court ruled that a man who was in jail was still entitled to his wife’s labor—and money.

As women increasingly started making their own keep, state legislatures began chipping away at the coverture doctrine by passing a series of Married Women’s Property Laws, which, in turn, provoked a slew of “doom-and-gloom” predictions of how property-owning wives would mean the demise of marriage and the family unit. E.J. Graff describes how in 1844 a New York legislative committee stated that women’s independence would lead to “infidelity in the marriage bed, a high rate or divorce, and increased female criminality,” redefining marriage from “its high and holy purposes” into something solely about “convenience and sensuality.” Meanwhile, a Maryland judge refused to recognize his state’s Married Women’s Property Law, stating that the law would destroy the “moral and social efficacy of the marriage institution… What incentive would there be for such a wife ever to reconcile differences with husband, to act in submission to his wishes, and perform the many onerous duties pertaining to her sphere? Would not every wife… abandon her husband and her home?” What incentive, indeed?

Vestiges of this legal subordination of women in marriage lasted a long, long time—think about how the tradition of “Mr. and Mrs. Him” comes from the idea that man’s identity “covers” his wife. As late as 1976 a Massachusetts court was asked to decide if a wife, under common law, could sue her husband. (The court decided that yes, she could, but it was a matter of doubt as recently as the Bicentennial.) I myself, as a young attorney, worked on the case that ended what was called the “marital rape exemption” in New York — the rule, at one time pervasive throughout the states, that a man could not be prosecuted for raping his wife and taking what “belonged to him” as a husband. That was not some ancient past; that was 1984 in “liberal” New York.

Despite the broader agenda of the opponents of marriage equality for gays—an agenda very much alive, as shown by the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention’s call for women “to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband”—most Americans today would not urge (at least not in front of their wives or daughters) that our country return to this tradition of marriage—no matter how “efficient” it made the family unit or conformed to some religious views of “God’s plan” and the “definition of marriage.”

Crossing the Threshold: Equal Marriage Rights for Lesbians and Gay Men and the Intra-Community Criti

NYU Rev. of Law & Social Change 576

In a law review article, Evan Wolfson addresses the intra-community differences of opinion and emphasis most recently reincarnated in the “Beyond Marriage” document and press blitz. Wolfson examines the false “either/or” premises of some advocates, and draws on history and social change theory in evaluating many of the claims made against the work to win the freedom to marry. The article was written in 1994. [Link]