Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson Reflects on a Year of Victories & Defeats
Building on what it calls the historic achievements of the last decade, the leader of a national organization to promote gay marriage is launching a new strategy taking advantage of online technologies. Evan Wolfson hopes it will broaden support for marriage equality.
Founded in 2003, Freedom to Marry bills itself as a support center for national, state, and local partners, gay and non-gay, engaged in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
The organization has brought on additional staff and next month will launch a redesigned website with the help of Blue State Digital, a company that worked on the Obama presidential campaign. It hopes to double its current $1.4 million annual budget.
Its three new hires are veterans of political and nonprofit campaigns: Sean Eldridge, an Obama campaign youth organizer; Michael Crawford, a new media expert who was a leader in the successful fight for marriage equality in Washington, D.C.; and Thalia Zepatos, a nationally recognized community organizer.
Wolfson is Freedom to Marry’s founder and executive director. A prominent attorney and nationally recognized leader in the movement, he definitely sees the glass as half full, despite setbacks in New York, New Jersey and Maine.
He called 2009 a "landmark year of success" in a news release announcing the organization’s changes in direction.
In a phone interview with EDGE from his New York City headquarters, Wolfson cited victories in New Hampshire, Vermont, The District of Columbia and Iowa as evidence of breaking through "tremendously important barriers."
"I didn’t say 2009 was the year we won every single thing," he continued. "We saw Democrats and Republicans speaking out in support of marriage. We saw people like [former Republican Congressman] Bob Barr, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and Bill Clinton, who signed it, now saying they support undoing it. We saw for the first time in a nationwide poll a majority of Americans being in support of freedom to marry."
He added that he "would not trade places with the anti-gay side for a moment when it comes to the fundamentals. The country is moving in the direction of marriage. Our job is to get it there faster."
The defeats in New York, New Jersey and Maine don’t mean the end of the fight in those states--rather, for Wolfson, only the end of the beginning.
In Maine, for example, he pointed to the long path to passage of its non-discrimination law. The state Legislature first passed the bill in 1998, but voters overturned it and did so again in 2000 before finally approving it in 2005.
"I don’t remember people in 1998 and 2000 say we better give up on non-discrimination because we lost the battle," he said.
He blamed Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s loss last November for the failure to pass marriage equality in New Jersey. As for New York, he described the state as going "into meltdown" in 2009, so no substantial legislation of any kind was passed.
Wolfson advocated using every possible tactic to legalize same-sex marriage. The federal court trial now under way in California to overturn Proposition 8 is "a tremendously exciting and valuable teaching opportunity to talk with Americans about why marriage matters and to look at the evidence piling up that there is no good reason to ban it," he said. "So I want us all to seize the opportunity given by this case."
Any decision in the California case likely will be appealed. But, Wolfson cautioned, "There are many twists in the road before the case goes to the Supreme Court. None of us knows how long it will take.
"Rather than worrying about what we don’t know and can’t control, let’s focus on what we do know and can control. Continue winning over more hearts and minds. Every day we don’t do that is a waste."
Freedom to Marry’s revised strategy will employ a variety of tactics, such as messaging systems using social media to connect marriage equality advocates, Wolfson explained.
"As we enter 2010 we clearly feel like we have to up our game," he acknowledged. "All of us who are working to build a majority for marriage need to work together better, need to welcome new people to this cause, and need to channel energy and creativity into the actions needed at both the state and federal level."
He also stressed the importance of individuals speaking to their family, friends and co-workers about why marriage matters to "help more non-gay people push past their discomfort and speak up for fairness and end marriage discrimination. We want to be a part of all that work and help people doing a piece do that piece better and connect to other pieces."