Evan Wolfson’s Acceptance Speech for the Douglas W. Jones Leadership Award

By Evan Wolfson - 10/17/13

If anything can be more of an honor than being recognized by, and alongside, cherished friends and colleagues, it is figuring as a character in something – even a brief encomium – written by Tony Kushner.

Tony knows, perhaps better than any of us, the words of Lincoln:

  • “We cannot escape history.”
  •  “[We] will be remembered in spite of ourselves”
  • “No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us.”

It matters to me that my life’s work be remembered. So many here tonight and across the country have worked to enlarge possibilities, overthrow exclusion, and, yes, win the freedom to marry. It is an enormous honor, Tony, that your words tonight will help that long work – and my part – indeed be remembered. Thank you, Tony Kushner. 

And it is an honor to share recognition today with my friend and colleague, Robbie Kaplan.

Robbie and I have a lot in common. We both argued important cases before the Supreme Court and got 5-4 rulings … well, never mind that.

We both came out of law school and were offered lucrative careers as high-powered litigators with massive salaries … well, never mind that.

Robbie, you deserve our accolades:

  • for your bringing the remarkable story and voice of Edie Windsor before the country and the Court
  • for your skillful and impassioned pull-out-all-the-stops advocacy
  • for your big heart
  • and for the big win you delivered in our campaign to win marriage nationwide.

Thank you, Robbie Kaplan.

It is an honor to be recognized by the Pride Agenda. I’ve had the good fortune of working closely with generations of Pride Agenda staff and board leadership through many battles. From Doug Jones, whom we remember tonight, to, well, Tim Sweeney, Matt Foreman, Dick Dadey, Alan Van Capelle, Ross Levi, Sheila Healy, Paula Ettelbrick, Jeff Soref, Louis Bradbury, Marla Hassner, Norm Simon, Otho Kerr, Frank Selvaggi – to name truly just a few – and now to Nathan Schaefer and the team today, New York and America have benefited from the talent and tenacity that Pride Agenda has brought to improving lives and the law.

Together we won the freedom to marry – and a historic national turning point – here in New York. And together we must finish the job that is before us in New York, advocating for our seniors and our youth, and passing GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

And on the theme of finishing the job:

It is not enough that we have won the freedom to marry in New York and 12 other states and 18 countries on 5 continents – up from zero little more than a decade ago. 

It is not enough that we have dealt a mortal blow to federal marriage discrimination and brought many of the federal protections of marriage to families in every state in the country.

2/3’s of the American people live in the 37 states that still deny the freedom to marry and so many other protections. That includes a disproportionate share of the most vulnerable of our own: LGBT people raising kids, LGBT people of lesser means, LGBT people in more hostile communities, a higher percentage of LGBT people of color.

And even those of us who live in freedom-to-marry states like New York may travel, work, or relocate to non-marriage states – or even just cross the George Washington Bridge – and find our families without protection and our marriages without respect.

With the nationwide victory we've worked so hard for now within reach (in years, not decades, if we fulfill Freedom to Marry’s plan)… from New York to New Mexico, and yes, to New Jersey, we don’t just want to create golden ghettoes; we want to win it all. 

This is no time to step back or away from the transformative vocabulary, winning strategy, driving engine, and hard-earned momentum of the campaign to win marriage. In Lincoln’s words: "We [each] hold the power, and bear the responsibility," "we must rise with the occasion," and "we must strive on to finish the work we are in," "dedicated to the great task remaining before us."

We are not done until we are done. 

Finally, no one accorded an honor or recognition such as tonight’s should be under any illusion that he or she merits it alone. As one of my favorite writers – whom you heard from tonight – instructs, “The smallest indivisible human unit is two people, not one; one is a fiction. From such nets of souls societies, the social world, human life springs.”

And so I am honored to be accompanied here by some of the people who warm my life and sustain my work:

  • my brother, Michael Wolfson, representing my family of birth
  • my close friends, Michele Hirshman & Russ Pearce, and Dorothy Samuels, representing my family of choice
  • Freedom to Marry National Campaign Director Marc Solomon, representing my family of fellow freedom fighters
  • and representing – and thanks to – the work we all did together in New York: the man who puts up with me and who, two years ago this week, married me… Cheng He, my beautiful sweetheart and beloved husband.

Thank you to the Pride Agenda, and thank you all, for all you have given me, and for the good we have done and are doing together.