The Respect for Marriage Coalition
One of the key vehicles for organizing around the Respect for Marriage Act and ending federal marriage discrimination was the Respect for Marriage Coalition, launched by Freedom to Marry in February 2012 with the Human Rights Campaign as co-chair. The Coalition was a partnership of organizations working together to build support on Capitol Hill for the Respect for Marriage Act and to repeal the discriminatory DOMA.
Over 100 organizations and groups – including LGBT organizations, civil rights and progressive groups, faith groups, health organizations, legal organizations, student and youth groups, unions and women’s groups joined together as the largest coalition supporting the freedom to marry, to repeal DOMA, and to fight other congressional attacks on repealing DOMA.
Launching and Developing the Respect for Marriage Coalition
We launched the campaign in February 2012 with excellent press coverage, including a piece in Influence Alley in The National Journal and an op-ed by Freedom to Marry Federal Director Jo Deutsch in The Hill’s Congress Blog.
Freedom to Marry was responsible for building and maintaining the website that contained background information on the Coalition and the Respect for Marriage Act. The website, RespectforMarriage.org, highlighted the 100+ member groups and showcased key support for the freedom to marry and the Respect for Marriage Act.
The Coalition combined the knowledge, expertise, and membership base of its member groups to build a strong program with which to lobby Congressmembers both in Washington and in their home districts/states on the Respect for Marriage Act and overturning DOMA.
Freedom to Marry, joined by HRC, produced lobby kits and background information for the member groups. Together the member organizations lobbied on Capitol Hill and at the grassroots level to build the cosponsor numbers for the Respect for Marriage Act. In addition, the Coalition sent Congressional support letters for reintroduction of the bills in the 112th and 113th Congresses. Sixty-eight organizations signed onto the original support letter in March 2011.
This robust, diverse coalition of organizations was tapped again and again to broaden the outreach of groups discussing marriage for same-sex couples.
Prior to the November 2012 election, for example, as Freedom to Marry, national partners and state campaign teams worked to win marriage at the ballot, we engaged the Respect for Marriage Coalition members to help support the efforts in the four ballot states. The initial request for assistance would come from either the ballot campaigns or Freedom to Marry organizers who were embedded with the campaigns. The Coalition members helped in a variety of ways – including getting congressional and local elected officials in the respective states to issue public statements in favor of marriage and engaging their supporters in the state to volunteer and vote. Freedom to Marry also brought in members of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry into Minnesota to help with the right of center work.
Sustaining the Coalition
The coalition held a number of in-person meetings, including a launch meeting attended by over 30 member organizations. At that first meeting, three task forces were formed - Lobbying, Field, and Communications –and organizations took assignments for the task forces.
Emails were also sent out regularly to all member groups when new developments on the bill or the freedom to marry generally progressed. These emails could be monthly, weekly, and even daily. Prior to the decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013, Freedom to Marry sent daily emails to the member groups with updated information about the cases and decisions. By keeping the member organizations up to date, organizations were able to send their memberships similar updates, thus expanding our outreach and lobbying potential for the Respect for Marriage Act.
In addition, federal lobbyists for Coalition member groups often lobbied together on Capitol Hill for the Respect for Marriage Act and ending marriage discrimination. For example, Freedom to Marry joined forces to lobby with the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Black Justice Coalition to promote equal support for military members and their families. Combining our resources, the Coalition was able to share relevant stories with key Congressional offices on why passage of the Act and repeal of DOMA was crucial to the families highlighted.
In the months leading up to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Windsor, the Respect for Marriage Coalition briefly morphed into a slightly different entity. Freedom to Marry worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the Human Rights Campaign on a joint media campaign touting that all of America was ready for a positive Supreme Court decision. The joint effort amplified stories of same-sex couples hurt by DOMA, conservatives who supported the freedom to marry, and Americans from coast to coast calling for an end to marriage discrimination nationwide. The joint project team used a modified version of the Respect for Marriage Coalition banner for its public branding, where needed.
Throughout this project, other members of the Respect for Marriage Coalition were updated frequently about successes of the joint media effort, including the many social media posts and news articles that called for a United State Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage for all same-sex couples, in every state, and an end to DOMA once and for all.
Pushing Past Windsor toward Full Repeal of DOMA
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Windsor v. United States striking down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Freedom to Marry pursued a multi-prong strategy alongside national partners and the movement’s legal organizations to secure swift and full implementation of the ruling. The goal was to work with (and, as needed, on) the Administration to ensure that legally married same-sex couples were treated as married by the federal government for all federal programs and purposes no matter where they lived – including in states that continued to discriminate.
The ruling, however, did not strike down all of DOMA. In order to remove the discriminatory language from U.S. Code and end federal marriage discrimination, it remained crucial for Congress to fully repeal DOMA by passing the Respect for Marriage Act, and so Freedom to Marry’s federal team as well as the Respect for Marriage Coalition continued to lobby for passage of the Act.
On June 26, 2013 – hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 – supporters of the freedom to marry in the United States Congress wasted no time in taking steps toward full and final repeal of DOMA. Congressman Nadler and Senator Feinstein reintroduced the Respect for Marriage Act with a record number of cosponsors – 161 in the House, and 42 in the Senate.
The Respect for Marriage Coalition continued work to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and bring down DOMA fully, once and for all.
Part of this work stemmed from developments in the states, as dozens of states enacted the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in 2014. In September 2014, the Respect for Marriage Coalition sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking that the Department of Justice following a lower court ruling act to ensure federal respect for the marriages of same–sex couples in Arkansas, Indiana, and Wisconsin, consistent with the approach taken by the federal government in other states after similar court rulings (Michigan and Utah). The letter was co-signed by more than 50 other groups that comprised the Coalition. It was the first time the Coalition sent a joint letter, and it garnered significant media attention.
Over the next year and a half, the Respect for Marriage Coalition continued to closely monitor and amplify developments on the freedom to marry. Even toward the days prior to the U.S. Supreme Court victory affirming the freedom to marry nationwide, Freedom to Marry continued regular email updates and provided background information about the case to Coalition members. And, the Coalition continued pushing for national understanding that all states must respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples.