Editors' Note: Guest blogger Marc Solomon is the marriage director of Equality California, where he focuses on overturning Prop 8 and restore the freedom to marry in the state. Before joining EQCA, Marc led the successful fight to protect marriage equality in Massachusetts as the executive director of MassEquality. He also helped with the efforts in Connecticut, Vermont and Maine.
Once again it's been a year of exalting ups and difficult downs, but having worked on the freedom to marry pretty much non-stop since 2001, I am very optimistic about the course ahead. I wanted to share some of my reflections with you, on California and the nation, both for the last year and the year ahead.
The year began in Vermont with the historic accomplishment of gaining the freedom to marry through an act of a legislature rather than a court, over-riding the cynical veto of Gov. Jim Douglas. (California's legislature twice passed EQCA-sponsored bills that would have established the freedom to marry, but both were vetoed by the governor.) New Hampshire and Maine followed suit with legislative victories, and the Washington, D.C. City Council approved marriage equality by a huge margin. Same-sex couples will soon be able to marry atop Mount Everest in Nepal and, closer to home in Mexico City, a source of both pride and renewed commitment to many Californians of Mexican heritage whom I've spoken with. In court, we saw the powerful combo of Ted Olson and David Boies pull any veneer of respectability off our opponents' canards. While we couldn't watch on television, we read about our opponents pulling witness after witness because they knew their arguments would topple under cross-examination.
Here in California, we passed a law clarifying that same-sex couples married before November 2008 in other places are legally married here, and couples marrying elsewhere after that date gain all the rights and protections of marriage. Thousands of EQCA supporters kept the pressure on their representatives and Gov. Schwarzenegger to make this happen.
Of course, not all the news was good this year. Despite outspending our opponents and running a powerful field-focused campaign in Maine, we still came up a few percentage points short. Many EQCA field organizers and board members joined the fight on "volunteer vacations," and hundreds of EQCA volunteers manned phone banks from home, making 25,000 calls to turn out pro-equality voters. Painfully, the New York and New Jersey legislatures voted down marriage legislation in spite of intensive organizing work by our sister organizations.
Even with setbacks along the way, we are winning. Every state that comes our way, every "unusual suspect" that makes the case for equality, every country that begins marrying same-sex couples, is making history. In each of those locations, as same-sex couples actually marry, we are able to show the difference between the reality of same-sex couples' marriages--the truth of our lives--as compared to the fears which our opponents try to peddle.
Bringing It Home to Cali
I'm hopeful for a good outcome in the federal case against Prop. 8 and deeply proud of the great work of Olson, Boies and the American Foundation for Equal Rights. But we can't just wait and depend on the courts to do the right thing and affirm our rights. We have to keep building support for the freedom to marry so that no matter the outcome in the court, we know we can keep strengthening LGBT rights and fend off the attacks our opponents try to launch against us.
Through our Let California Ring educational campaign, EQCA has built close partnerships with organizations in the Latino, African-American and Asian-Pacific Islander communities, and we are working together to build support among non-LGBT people of color. Interestingly, in our door-to-door canvasses Latinos and African-Americans have demonstrated the greatest likelihood of becoming more supportive. Many are telling our canvassers that no one on our side has ever before engaged them in conversation.
Our 20 field organizers operating out of 10 offices across California have formed close partnerships with coalition partners, communities of faith and organized labor and are leading persuasion canvasses. In places like the Inland Empire, LGBT organizing has never been carried out with such focus and rigor before, and last weekend we had our first Spanish language canvass in Riverside. In total, our field organizers have organized and led 137 canvasses over the past 9 months. If you live in California, we need you to join up! It may feel difficult, or unpleasant, but I can tell you our volunteers find it an exceptionally empowering experience to have real conversations with people on this issue. People are usually willing to talk and share their thinking, and many are open to reconsidering their opinions. Join us, please!
EQCA, along with GLAAD and LGBT family groups like Our Family Coalition and COLAGE, is also launching a speakers bureau to get out the stories of the more than 18,000 same-sex couples who are already married in California. There is no better way of demonstrating that the scare tactics of our opponents are untrue than by introducing Californians to these couples, at places of worship, social clubs, chambers of commerce--any place where we can get an audience.
Opening the Suggestion Box
There's been a ton of messaging research done recently, so we're compiling all of it and then opening up the suggestion box wide. We want to be bold and creative about which messages, messengers and audiences we focus on, so we are asking our members and people across the nation for their ideas. We will try out different approaches in pilot projects, rigorously evaluating them every step of the way to see which actually move people and to find out the characteristics of those individuals who have moved. Then we can take what we learn to scale.
In partnership with California Faith for Equality and the California Council of Churches, we will educate Californians about the difference between civil and religious marriage. EQCA is sponsoring a bill recently introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, which highlights the distinction between civil and religious marriage and lays out explicitly that no clergy can be compelled to perform marriages for same-sex couples. Through lobby visits in Sacramento, hearings, op-eds, online actions and more, we will use this year to highlight this bill and take away another scare tactic that our opponents use: saying that clergy who don't perform marriages for same-sex couples will lose their tax exemption.
In my many years of working on this issue, I can tell you that the most effective way to move people our way is to share our stories. There are far too many straight people who do not support our rights and who have LGBT friends and family members. As frustrating as it might feel, it's our job to get them to support our rights--each and every one of us. There's nothing else we can do that is more important than having these conversations. I've seen older aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends, move on the issue simply through a heart-felt conversation about why marriage is important to their friend or loved one.
Our suggestion box is wide open. Please leave me a comment or email me directly if you have thoughts or ideas. Together, we will build a California with majority support for marriage equality.