Interview, LGBT — May 29, 2015 at 8:47 am

INTERVIEW: How Freedom to Marry won hearts and minds on marriage equality — and what’s next


Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, talks about the road to marriage equality.

With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality expected in just a few short weeks — and a historic victory for marriage equality in Ireland last week — anticipation, and hope, are high among those who support the right of same-sex couples to marry. I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry‘s national campaign director and author of Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits — and Won. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

“Winning marriage” is in the title of your book. What does that mean to you?

We are winning, but we haven’t won fully yet. Right now we’re at 37 states that encompass nearly three-quarters of the population. Potentially, we’re at greater than 60% support nationwide. We’re on a roll. We have the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. I have confidence that we’ll prevail. Although we’re not stopping our work or slowing down. We’ll keep doing what’s gotten us this far until the job is done.

On the Freedom to Marry website, it talks about the “Roadmap to Victory” and a three-pronged strategy — winning more states, growing the majority, and ending federal discrimination — to create a climate that maximizes the chances for a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Tell me more about that.

It’s really about elevating voices. Right now, we’re focused on elevating unexpected voices in parts of the country where you wouldn’t expect to have much support, like Texas, Georgia, Florida. The support of Republicans and clergy, and other business leaders in states that are more conservative. We’re highlighting the stories of couples who are waiting to get married, who can’t get married in their own state, or whose marriages aren’t getting respect in their own state. We’re also making the case that there’s real support for marriage, but there’s also real harms in not supporting marriage equality.

What’s an example of those harms?

The story of the plaintiffs from Michigan [Jayne Rowse & April DeBoer] highlights some of the harms in such a poignant way. Here’s this couple who are really doing the Lord’s work in adopting foster kids, and yet they can’t both adopt these kids because the state of Michigan considers their relationship a second-class relationship, even though they’ve been a couple for a long time. It gets to the tangible aspects of marriage — ensuring the safety and security of children — but also the intangible, that it’s demeaning for the state to tell you your relationship doesn’t count, that you are a second-class citizen.

What do you think has driven the shift in public opinion to a place where a majority of Americans now support marriage equality?

It’s happened over a decade. Since 2003, when support was in the mid 30s, we’ve grown pretty steadily, with rapid growth over the last several years.

I think what happened is that once same-sex couples were able to marry — once we won the first state, Massachusetts — people could see what it’s really about. Opponents were making the case that we were trying to redefine or uproot marriage. But what people saw was that gay people just wanted to be part of marriage. We had loving and committed relationships and wanted those treated equally under the law and to be respected by the states. Once people saw what it was about through same-sex couples marrying, the opposition — the fear — started falling away.

It didn’t happen on its own. It was couples marrying, and a lot of the work we did and that I talk about in my book — the real work of organizing couples to share their stories, and parents and children to share their stories with friends, neighbors and lawmakers. The stories of why their marriage — or their parents’ marriages or children’s marriages — were so important. Once people find out they know people who are gay couples, they know them and go to school with them and work with them, that’s when people really start to come around. They see it’s in sync with their value system of the Golden Rule and treating people with respect. It’s not people who want to uproot the institution of marriage. It’s committed people who want to get married to each other. At the heart of it, that’s been how it’s happened.

Like so many others, I am thinking positively about how the Supreme Court will rule. So when love wins, what happens next?

Freedom to Marry will do some work around ensuring the ruling is implemented appropriately and in an expeditious way, and then we’ll go out of business in months rather than years. Our campaign for marriage equality will be over. But that doesn’t mean the work on LGBT equality is over. Michigan in particular doesn’t have protections against discrimination in the workplace, housing, etc., so you need to get a law passed in Michigan and ultimately a federal law that protects LGBT people. So the movement’s work continues even as Freedom to Marry ends should we prevail.

And what happens if the Supreme Court rules against marriage equality?

We keep trying. We’re in this until we’re done. What will happen immediately is that we would focus on winning more states again through the legislative process and ballot process. In states like Michigan and Ohio, we’d move quickly to consider putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016. In other states, we’d continue to grow public support and make a case to lawmakers. It would be a serious disappointment and setback if we lose, but we’ve had plenty of disappointments in this movement — and we are a resilient bunch. We’d stick with it.

Are there lessons other campaigns can take from the outstanding work Freedom to Marry has done?

Absolutely. In addition to continuing to make the case for marriage equality, we’re talking to leaders from other movements — gun violence prevention, women’s equality like paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage. It’s been a pleasure to offer up some thoughts about how we can apply the lessons we’ve learned.

From my vantage point, speaking to people’s values and really humanizing the issue by putting forth real stories of real people is at the heart of what we’ve done. We’ve done it in a very smart, strategic way. At the core of our work, it’s been a focus on people sharing their stories and appealing to American values: the Golden Rule, freedom, the right to be left alone and not have government interfere with your private choices. I think we’ve done a good job of making the case with conflicted straight people in a way that appeals to their values. It respects the fact that they have some ambivalence or aren’t sure what the right answer is. Walking them through to a place of support — never demonizing people for not being with us, but helping them evolve to a place where they are in support.

Remember: If you buy Solomon’s book by entering the title in the search box at the top of the page, a donation goes to Eclectablog without costing you a penny.

[Images courtesy of Freedom to Marry.]