Evan Wolfson reflects on the historic Freedom to Marry victory at Celebration Event

Remarks by Evan Wolfson at Freedom to Marry's Victory Celebration – July 9, 2015

Quick Links: Freedom to Marry Celebration Event

It’s fitting that we gather today to celebrate our victory, America’s victory, because it was on this day, July 9, in 1868 that We, the People ratified the 14 Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment recommitted our country to liberty and equality for all, and gave us the legal structure within which we won the freedom to marry two weeks ago.

We won under the Constitution, but, of course, the Constitution didn’t just fulfill its own promise. It took a movement to do that – so much work, sacrifice, trust, and hope to achieve this transformation, this triumph.

"No one person alone, no one organization alone, no one state, no one case, no one methodology of social change, no one battle, no one decade alone did this. It took a whole movement to bring us to this victory."

No one person alone, no one organization alone, no one state, no one case, no one methodology of social change, no one battle, no one decade alone did this. It took a whole movement to bring us to this victory. It took the Constitution and it took the country, millions of conversations and many battles that changed hearts and minds and helped the American people rise to fairness.

At the same time, this movement was not just a random series of episodes. There was a strategy that we stuck with, and there was a campaign built to drive that strategy and foster and leverage the movement. That campaign was Freedom to Marry.

It was the combination of all of that – America’s promise, a decades-long movement, a successful strategy, a tenacious campaign – that delivered, through slow and steady successes and stumbles, as the President said, justice, that came like a thunderbolt.

That is, indeed, something to celebrate.

For me and the Freedom to Marry team, a big part of our celebration is saying thank you to the many who have been part of this movement, part of this victory. Many are here tonight, and I would like to give a few special thanks now.

Thank you to the many private and local firms and attorneys, and our movement’s indispensable legal groups – the ACLU, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, and National Center for Lesbian Rights – our co-hosts tonight and our hand-in-glove partners in the strategy and the victory.

A special thank you to my friend and partner in this work for 25 years, a hero and leader who stood before the Supreme Court on behalf of all of us, Mary Bonauto.

From Day One of the Obama Administration, I had the honor and pleasure of doing business with an internal champion within the White House, who worked tirelessly and effectively to help ensure the pivotal moral leadership we saw in this cause from the President, Vice President, and Department of Justice: the President’s Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett – with us here tonight!

Our movement needed a campaign machine – and machines take fuel. We wouldn’t be here without the generosity and vision of many contributors, many donors, many funders. And shining large among them were:

  • The Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
  • Tim Gill & Scott Miller, and the Gill Foundation and Gill Action
  • Jon Stryker – our largest single contributor! – and the Arcus Foundation
  • Paul Singer and the American Unity Fund
  • And all the Civil Marriage Collaborative funders.

For many years, behind the scenes, Freedom to Marry worked closely with our counterparts in other countries. We knew that their progress could help ours, and, in turn, that a win here would give us more to work with in the continuing challenge of defending and advancing human rights around the globe. Representing our colleagues from the many other freedom to marry countries is the co-chair of the Yes! campaign that just resoundingly won a vote that reverberated around the world, Grainne Healy of MarriageEquality Ireland.

"The Freedom to Marry campaign is over. But the work of our movement, of our country, is far from done."

And I want to give a special thank you to the person with whom, nearly 15 years ago, I cooked up the idea of creating a full-fledged, focused campaign organization to drive the freedom to marry strategy to a national win, my mentor and a movement hero, the beloved Tim Sweeney.

We would like to thank tonight’s sponsors, including The Advocate/HereMedia and Skyy Vodka, the lead underwriter of tonight’s celebration, passionate partners of Freedom to Marry’s for the past two years. Keep them in mind in a few minutes when I ask you to join me in a toast.

And now you [the audience]:

Please raise your hand if you:

  • Had a personal conversation that helped persuade someone to support the freedom to marry
  • Helped with digital, online, organizing, door-knocking, and all the work of building the majority for marriage
  • Gave or raised money to fuel the cause
  • Joined an organization that did important work
  • Spoke out as an ally
  • Stepped forward as a plaintiff or lawyer in marriage litigation
  • Worked in any of the crucial legislative battles
  • Fought hard in any of the marriage ballot campaigns

Now give yourselves a hand. You are how we won.

Throughout tonight’s celebration, you have seen and will continue to see the hundreds of names – individuals as well as organizations – the “thousand points of light” we celebrate and thank tonight. And since so many of you are here with us tonight, keep an eye out for yours.

My final thank you’s go to the incomparable Freedom to Marry team, past and present, and as I call you out, please give a wave.

First, our Steering Committee and Board members, many of whom have been with us from 2001.

And a special shout-out to our Board chairs, Barb Cox and Anne Stanback. Thank you for your leadership.

Next, please join me in thanking Freedom to Marry’s frontline staffers – an extraordinarily talented and committed group who are now clearly going to be the next leaders in our movement and many other good-guy causes.

And finally, let me bring out Freedom to Marry’s stellar senior team:

  • Director of State Campaigns, Richard Carlbom – our Minnesota office, who in 2012 led us in our first success in beating an anti-gay ballot-measure
  • Development Director, Juan Barajas – who with skill and sweetness helped us chug across the finish line, and who together with his team organized this beautiful celebration tonight
  • Communications Director, Kevin Nix – who led us in driving the national narratives that solidified the climate for victory
  • Federal Director, Jo Deutsch – scourge of Mayors everywhere, who built our political momentum in the Beltway and helped us light up the map
  • Digital Director, Michael Crawford – who led the cutting-edge Freedom to Marry online presence and strategies that are truly envied across movements
  • Director of Research and Messaging, Thalia Zepatos – who led Freedom to Marry’s work to crack the code on how to move the middle, and who, with her beautiful personality and smarts and skills, shepherded our movement in the work of building and growing the majority for marriage

And the indispensable left hand and right hand in all of what Freedom to Marry became:

  • Freedom to Marry’s COO, Scott Davenport – who kept me away from the parts I wasn’t good at, kept it all running, and kept us together as the machine and team the movement needed
  • National Campaign Director, Marc Solomon – who after leading us in pivotal battles to hold that crucial win in Massachusetts and to rebound from the loss of Prop 8 in California, agreed to join me here and lead Freedom to Marry’s transformation into the full-fledged, public-facing, on the ground, rounded model campaign I had long hoped for. Marc not only wrote the book, Winning Marriage (paperback coming soon), he wrote the story. My essential partner, fellow leader, and, yes, identical twin, Marc Solomon.

Without these people, this team, we would not be celebrating this victory today.

I told you I was going to tell you about the second phone-call that stood out for me on the day we won. I got a call from a man named Bernie Cohen. Bernie Cohen was one of the two lawyers who argued Loving v. Virginia before the Supreme Court. Bernie congratulated me and of course that was extremely moving.

He went on to say that arguing and winning Loving v. Virginia was, for him, the high point of his life. And he said, “I am so glad that it didn’t stop there.”

The Freedom to Marry campaign is over. But the work of our movement, of our country, is far from done. And at this high point in life, we must all commit that it won’t stop here.

So please join my team and me in a toast:

To the freedom to marry – and to continuing to work for a more perfect union for everyone! Mazel tov!