Over the past year-and-a-half, I have headed up Equality California's efforts to win back the freedom to marry. During this time, I've had the chance to work with thousands of tremendous organizers, advocates, volunteers, donors, elected officials, and other leaders throughout California, all determined to do whatever it took to overturn the ugly blot on our state's constitution called Proposition 8. Together, we undertook the largest effort in our movement's history to make the case on marriage equality through face-to-face conversations.
I could not be prouder of what we together have accomplished. EQCA hired 19 dedicated organizers, we deployed them to the parts of the state where we had the most persuasion work to do, and recruited tens of thousands of volunteers and donors to support the work. We had literally hundreds of thousands of conversations at people's doors, moved 26 percent of the opponents with whom we spoke to be significantly more supportive, and helped grow public support for the freedom to marry in California from 44 percent to 50 percent (according to annual polling conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California).
I am especially proud of our focus and success building support in communities of color. With our community partners, we've demonstrated that, through real engagement, Latinos and African-Americans will move our way on the freedom to marry, and at rates higher than Anglos. And we've partnered with our colleagues working in the Asian-Pacific Islander communities to launch groundbreaking research on messaging in Chinese and Filipino communities.
As we all know, the landscape has shifted dramatically.
In the perfect world, Equality California would maintain and grow the field program it has built, both to be ready for a possible court loss and to continue building public support. Thanks to the lawsuit filed by American Foundation for Equal Rights, Proposition 8 has been found unconstitutional in federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has dramatically accelerated its review. In addition, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders was successful in district court with its lawsuit challenging key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act. This means that in the next two years, key elements of marriage discrimination--or at least Prop 8 and the denial of federal benefits to same-sex married couples--could crumble in the federal courts.
However, in the present economic climate, where there's a real sense that Prop 8 could be overturned in the courts in the next two years, the funding is simply not available for EQCA to maintain the program it has put in place.
This means EQCA needs to make some changes, and it is. EQCA is maintaining a solid marriage program, with the Let California Ring public education campaign at the center working to devise and disseminate messaging that will continue to grow support, both across the board and in target communities. My colleague Andrea Shorter, deputy director of marriage and coalitions, will lead the efforts to grow support through coalitional outreach and our speaker's bureau. At the same time, after the November elections, EQCA is significantly reducing its field staff and is closing some of its offices.
There are so many deserving of thanks for the work we've undertaken. I want to thank our team of dedicated organizers for rising to the challenge of building a campaign focused on persuading Californians in the places where the work needed to happen most--places like the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County, East and South Los Angeles, and more. Their work, and that of the thousands of dedicated volunteers, has made a tremendous, measurable and permanent difference. I want to thank Geoff Kors and the EQCA staff and Boards of Directors for creating the opportunity to build this effort, and for supporting it so strongly. I want to thank the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for loaning senior staff to the effort. Most of all, I want to thank my long-time colleague Amy Mello, who came with me from Massachusetts to serve as field director, for her wisdom and dedication in putting in place the most sophisticated field program our movement has known. Amy, with whom I have worked for six years, will be joining Equality Maine to head up its field efforts and prepare for a return to the ballot. She is simply the best, and this movement owes this straight woman educated in the Catholic schools of southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island a huge debt of gratitude.
As for me, I am joining forces with the national organization Freedom to Marry to serve as a senior consultant and a member of their senior team (you can check out the press release here). Freedom to Marry's exclusive mission is to win the right of same-sex couples to marry nationwide, and I am privileged to be joining its founder who is also a long-time mentor, Evan Wolfson, and the tremendous team he has assembled to help carry out this crucial mission.
In my work with Freedom to Marry, a substantial portion of my time will be dedicated to continuing to build and strengthen the marriage education campaign on the ground in California, working closely with the Let California Ring coalition, of which Freedom to Marry is a key partner. I will continue to be based out of Los Angeles.
The majority of my work will be helping Freedom to Marry seize this unique moment in history to expand the national marriage movement. With the federal court cases on the advance, a nationwide majority for marriage (we've come a long way!), and the freedom to marry within reach in several more states in 2011, we have an unprecedented opportunity to seize right now. In short, we have momentum and we must grow it.
As part of the Freedom to Marry senior team, I will be taking on several signature projects, including expanding our Voices for Equality effort to demonstrate that it is out of the mainstream to not support the freedom to marry, by getting business and civic leaders, Republicans and conservatives, professional athletes, and other unexpected noteworthy people to voice support; and through securing additional tangible wins by growing the number of states that allow the freedom to marry.
It's now been a decade since I began working as a volunteer to secure the freedom to marry in Massachusetts. In those early days, I knew the freedom to marry was right but I didn't know if we'd prevail. I think back upon the years in Massachusetts, after I'd joined the effort full-time, when we were the only state in the country with marriage, and how it sometimes felt like our hold on that right was teetering while so many powerful forces--from the president to the Vatican--were gunning for us. Now, as we approach 2011, I am confident that we will prevail, and know that we can make tremendous, groundbreaking strides in the months ahead.
Most of all, I feel tremendous gratitude that I've had the opportunity to do this work over the past decade. I of course love the politics of it all but what's been most inspirational has been getting to help same-sex couples and LGBT individuals, their family members and friends, find their voice and their power, step out of their comfort zone, and tell their stories about why they should have the right to marry the person who they love. It is they who keep me focused ahead in this work (you can see what I'm talking about here).
Here's to working together on many more victories!