Setting Up a Respect for Marriage Act In-District Visit
With President Barack Obama on board to help overturn DOMA, it is now in the hands of Congress or the courts to end the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from federal marriage protections.
In order to build the level of support needed to pass the Respect for Marriage Act which repeals DOMA, we need more members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors and do the work it’s going to take in Washington to move this bill.
And that’s where you come in.
We know that the most effective way of advocating for legislation is by meeting in-person with your own members of Congress or their staff in their district to tell them about why marriage matters to you.
And the good news is, meeting with your member of Congress is easier than you think.
Just follow the basic seven steps below. A Freedom to Marry staffer is available to help you through any step, as needed.
You can contact our Field Director, Regina Clemente, at 818-239-2070 or firstname.lastname@example.org, anytime.
STEP 1: Identify Your Members of Congress
Go to congress.org and type in your information. It will give you the name of your members of Congress and their contact information. Find out if your member of the House of Representatives and the Senate have co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act.
If your members are not co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, follow the steps below.
If your members are already co-sponsors, it is important to let them know how important their support of the Respect for Marriage Act is to you. Too often members of Congress are not thanked when they’ve done the right thing. Sending a thank you card is important and may help them take an even more active role in advancing the cause.
STEP 2: Schedule Your Visit
First, find the phone number and address of your local Representative/Senators’ office. To find phone and fax numbers for your member of Congress’ local district offices, visit congress.org.
Every Representative and Senator has a homepage with contact info. If there are multiple local offices, contact the office most convenient for you to visit. If you have trouble finding contact information, or if you have questions about which member’s office you should visit, call Freedom to Marry’s Field Director at (818) 239-2070.
Call the office scheduler to find out what you need to do to schedule a meeting. Often, they will require a meeting request in writing. A sample meeting request letter can be found here.
Make sure to let them know that you live in their district and what the purpose of the visit is.
If they do not respond immediately, it is not because they are avoiding you – it is just that each office is very busy. It is very important to be persistent and follow-up by phone, fax, or email (whichever they tell you to do) until the meeting is scheduled. Find the right balance between contacting them regularly without becoming a nuisance!
If you cannot meet with the member, schedule a meeting with the staff person. Never underestimate the importance of establishing a relationship with the staff. The staff informs and influences the member of Congress about issues of concern to her/his constituents. Staff members are key people who can give you valuable information and advice. Do not be disappointed if you can “only” meet with the staff member.
Generally, a meeting will be scheduled two to three weeks out especially since members split their time between Washington, DC and their district. Don’t be surprised if it is on that timeline and plan ahead so that this timeline works with your schedule.
STEP 3: Let Us Know You Have Scheduled a Meeting
Congrats – when you’ve gotten to this step some of the hardest work is over!
So celebrate and let us know that you’ve scheduled a meeting by going to: freedomtomarry.org/mymeeting.
Once we know about your meeting, we may be able to connect you with others in your area who want to join a meeting (if that interests you). Additionally, knowing that you are meeting with your particular member of Congress helps us with our overall legislative strategy.
STEP 4: Prep for Your Visit: Research, Reflection, & Recruitment
Research: The key to a successful meeting is to invest some time to know about your member of Congress prior to going to the meeting:
- Congressional Background. It is helpful to generally know what is important to the legislator – and identify anything you may have in common. You can find their bios by going to house.gov or senate.gov.
- What is their legislative role. What committees do they sit on? Are they in any leadership positions? This helps you know what their priorities are and who may influence them.
- What is their voting record on LGBT legislation. If they have been supportive, you will want to thank them for it. To get information on their voting record, go to thomas.gov.
Reflection: In addition to doing a little research on the member of Congress, you should spend some time thinking about YOU. Taking just a few minutes to write out the answers to a few basic questions ahead of time really helps you articulate why marriage is so important. See the Sample Meeting Agenda for a list of these questions and a guide to preparing for the rest of the meeting.
Recruitment: The other thing that can help improve your visit is recruiting another person – or a team of people – to join you.
As always, there is power in numbers. And it takes some of the pressure off of you if you have others telling their stories as well. You can ask family members, friends, neighbors, local elected officials, organization leaders, clergy – anyone who cares about marriage for gay and lesbian couples!
Once you have recruited others to join you, forward this guide to them and schedule a call prior to the meeting to go over what you will each say and figure out different stories you can tell.
STEP 5: Confirm Your Meeting
It is always a good idea to confirm you meeting one to two days prior.
Simply call the office scheduler to confirm the meeting and let the scheduler know who will be attending. A big group is great, but you don’t want to surprise them the day of the meeting with a bigger group than they were expecting!
STEP 6: Have the Meeting
When it’s THE day, you will want to plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early – and give yourself plenty of time to park and find their office. Legislators and staff have tight schedules, so you don’t want to be late for your meeting, especially since these meeting are usually only 15-30 minutes - - if you’re late you may miss the whole thing.
If you have others joining your meeting, arrange for them to meet you 30 minutes prior so you can go over the meeting plan, review the talking points and your personal stories, and designate who will take the lead in facilitating the meeting.
Ask staff for business cards at the end of the meeting so you have the right spellings of names and address info.
Plan to wear business attire to the meeting.
STEP 7: Thank You Letter & Report Back
By this time, you should feel extremely accomplished, having directly lobbied a member of Congress and/or her/his staff! You have gotten us one step closer to building the support we need to eventually win federal marriage protections.
Immediately after, you should send a handwritten thank-you note to everyone with whom you met. Thank them for their time, restate your request for them to support the Respect for Marriage Act, and offer to follow-up on any questions they have. You should include your contact information and send this within one to two days of the visit.
Your final step is to let us know how the meeting went by going to freedomtomarry.org/reportback and filling out the short form on the site. We will help you answer any questions they raise in the meeting that you did not have the answer for.
That’s it! And if it seems like a lot – or you have any questions about any step – don’t hesitate to call Freedom to Marry’s Field Director, Regina Clemente, at 818-239-2070 or email her at email@example.com.