Board Member Spotlight: Barb Cox

Behind every strong organization is a strong Board of Directors - and Freedom to Marry has a dedicated and diverse group of individuals working each day to secure the freedom to marry nationwide. This year, we want to help you get to know each board member little bit better. This week, we hear from Barb Cox, the Chair of Freedom to Marry, Inc.'s Board of Directors and the Secretary of Freedom to Marry Action's Board of Directors. Barb is the Clara Shortridge Foltz Professor of Law at California Western School of Law in San Diego, where she has been teaching since 1987. In the past, she has chaired the Association of American Law Schools Section on Gay and Lesbian Legal Issues, the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education, and the AALS taskforce on the problems of preventing sexual orientation discrimination in religiously affiliated schools. She currently lives in San Diego, CA with her wife Peg. The couple has been together for over 22 years, and they married in Canada in 2003. The photo on the right is of Barb and Peg on a trip to France last year to celebrate the 20 years that have passed since their private commitment ceremony.  

1) Where are you from, and what brought you to California?

I was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Kentucky, went to college at Michigan State and then law school at Wisconsin. I later taught at the law school and women's studies program for 4 years before moving to San Diego to teach at California Western law school. I've been here since 1987, although my spouse and I now spend the fall semester in Wisconsin at our home in rural southwest Wisconsin. 

2) You've been a very active in the LGBT community. What are some of the most important things you've learned through your activism, and how have you applied them specifically to the marriage movement?

It's always been vitally important to be out to one's family, friends, and the larger community. I've been a "professional lesbian" for more than 30 years, speaking out and writing about civil rights issues. I've seen the importance of being out regardless of the issues facing LGBTQ people, but especially about marriage. Our society supports and enjoys seeing loving couples getting married, and we can use those positive feelings toward marriage to help our families, friends, and communities learn to embrace our marriages in the same way that most embrace the marriages of different-sex couples. We also need to be relentless, continuing to push our country and the rest of the world to provide legal recognition for our committed relationships. 

I've also learned that allies are vitally important to the marriage movement. The two proposition battles in California introduced me to so many straight people who rolled up their sleeves and worked incredibly hard to help us fight against those ballot initiatives. Although we lost both votes (which underscores how important it is to never put civil rights to a popular vote), we had so many people across the state and the country who pitched in and helped us during those campaigns. The understanding by the broader public of why it is important for everyone to speak-out in favor of marriage continues to increase, and our recent victories in the 2012 ballot initiatives make it clear that the tide has turned. 

3) What do you like to do in your free time?

I'm a voracious reader, particularly of lesbian fiction, general fiction, and mysteries. I hike a lot and enjoy yoga, pilates, and weight-training, do some gardening, work in our forest when we're in Wisconsin now that we have a wood-burning stove to heat our home, and enjoy spending time with Peg and our friends. 

4) What has been your favorite "freedom to marry" moment - a time in the movement that has particularly resonated with you?

There have been so many over the past years. At every Freedom to Marry board meeting, we start our meetings by asking everyone - board and staff members alike - to share their favorite marriage moment since the previous meeting. I've heard so many moving stories over the past 10 years. Of course, getting married legally in Canada in 2003 was my personal favorite; after being together for more than 13 years, my spouse and I were finally able to legalize the commitment we had made at our private ceremony in 1992. From a professional standpoint, it was when the California Supreme Court held that preventing same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional. For that brief five-month period before Prop 8 took away our freedom to marry, California really felt like home. It was devastating when Prop 8 passed, although I hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon rectify that terrible result.

5) Why does the freedom to marry matter to you?

I've been working for legal rights for same-sex couples since 1983 when I got involved with the effort to pass one of the country's first domestic partnership ordinances in Madison, WI, while I was president of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission. At that time, we couldn't even imagine that we could seek marriage equality. Since then, I've been actively pushing for the day when all couples are treated with dignity and respect. I've written over 20 law review articles about marriage and interstate recognition of our marriages and partnerships, and made dozens of presentations about these issues around the country. I frequently use narratives in those articles and presentations about the difficulties that my spouse and I have encountered because so many states treat us as though we are legal strangers. We have made such progress in the last 30 years that I have been involved in this movement, but as Evan Wolfson always says, there's still more work that needs to be done. And I'm grateful to work with Freedom to Marry and proud of how significant this organization has been in leading the movement forward.

Read Other Board Member Spotlights:

And Read Freedom to Marry Staff Spotlights: