Freedom to Marry celebrates victory, joined by VP and 1000+ movement colleagues

On Thursday, July 9, 2015, Freedom to Marry stood with one thousand of our friends, champions, supporters, and other movement leaders for our Freedom to Marry Celebration, a "going-out-of-business" party to reflect on the historic Supreme Court marriage ruling that brought the freedom to marry nationwide, once and for all. We were proud to be joined by special guests Vice President Joe Biden and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, plus musical guests Carly Rae Jepsen and Tony-winning performer Lena Hall. 

The event's lead sponsors were longtime partner SKYY Vodka and The Advocate/Here Media. And the celebration was organized in coordination with four Organizational Co-Chairs, vital legal partners who have made the case for the freedom to marry in court: the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & AIDS Project, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The Celebration, held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, was also sponsored by Blue State Digital, Civitas Public Affairs Group, and Holland & Knight. Special thanks to the Event Host Committee for their work. 

Quick Links: Freedom to Marry Celebration Event

A Triumph of a Movement - and a Campaign

Just as the court victory represented a triumph of decades of work and thousands of individuals, Freedom to Marry's event brought together hundreds of stakeholders and contributors while honoring the long history of advocates who have fought for equality. Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry's founder and president, said in his remarks

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. 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.

Read Evan Wolfson's full remarks here

"They Love Each Other. It's Simple."

Freedom to Marry was thrilled to welcome Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, for this joyous celebration. "I’ve never been so happy to be with an outfit that’s going out of business," VP Biden said in his remarks. He saluted Evan Wolfson, who met Biden while serving as a college intern in Biden's Senate office during the summer of 1976.  "I had more hair then and my movement days were still ahead of me," Evan said.

In his speech to the event attendees, VP Biden shared a poignant story about when he began to understand same-sex couples:

This has been a heroic battle, but it has been based on a very simple proposition best expressed at least to me by my dad when I was a 17-year-old kid. My dad was one of those — as the Irish say, the highest compliment you give someone is he was a good man. My dad was a good and decent man.

My dad pulled up [in a courthouse square in Wilmington] to let me run out and get an application for this job in the city, and then I was going to drive him to work and drive myself home. And as we were stopped at the light, two men on the right — very well-dressed men, obviously, business people working for either Hercules or DuPont turned and embraced one another and kissed each other. And they went their separate ways.

I’ll never forget. I turned and looked at my dad, just looked at him. And I’ll never forget what he said. He said, Joey, they love each other. It’s simple. They love each other. It’s simple.

That’s what this has been all about from the beginning.

The Vice President also described his time in the Senate Judiciary Committee fighting against the nomination of Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court - and in doing so, recalled the words written by Evan Wolfson in his 1983 Harvard Law School thesis. 

In 1983, there was a Harvard Law essay making the constitutional case for marriage equality written by a young man, who wrote, and I want to quote. He said, “Human rights illuminate and radiate from the Constitution, shedding light on the central human values of freedom and equality.”

That was the basis upon which I took on Judge Bork. No, no, let me explain because this is an important proposition. Judge Bork and many conservatives, justices, and he was a brilliant man and a brilliant judge and a brilliant professor. But he believed there was no such thing as any un-enumerated right in the Constitution. Unless it was stated in the Constitution, it did not exist as a constitutionally protected right. 

And I remember the opening exchange he and I had. I hadn’t thought about it till I saw your comments. We started the debate in the opening round, and I said, Judge Bork, I’m going to characterize your position on constitutional interpretation and you tell me if I’m wrong.

And I said, you believe all the rights I have as an American, a human being emanate from the Constitution. And if they are not stated, I do not possess that right. And he said, that’s right.

 And I said, well, I believe I have certain inalienable rights merely because I’m a child of God — just because I exist. The government has given me nothing. Given me nothing. They’ve just guaranteed to protect what I’m guaranteed as a human being to have. All human rights, all human rights illuminate and radiate from the Constitution. That’s what this is all about.

 These were not words from an illustrious Supreme Court Chief Justice. These are the words of your institution’s founder. These are the words written by Evan Wolfson when he was in law school.  Pretty courageous for a 26-year-old kid at Harvard Law School when the future looked so dark and lonely.

A Musical Celebration of #LoveWins

Two special musical guests also joined us for the evening. Carly Rae Jepsen, singer of "Call Me Maybe" and "I Really Like You" performed a strong set that encouraged the crowd to dance and celebrate the enormous marriage victory. The Grammy-nominated singer certainly roused the audience with dancing and singing along for the festive celebration. 

Lena Hall, the Tony-winning Broadway star and performer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) also performed two songs - a lovely rendition of "At Last" and a soaring "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The Fight Forward for the LGBT Movement

The evening was a wonderful celebration of the work that went into winning the freedom to marry nationwide - but it also served as a powerful reminder of the work that remains - and that we must commit to pursuing to ensure that LGBT Americans are truly and fully equal in their country. Since the marriage victory at the Supreme Court - in fact, since the very evening of the victory, in a rousing New York Times op-ed about the fight ahead - Evan Wolfson has been calling on the movement to harness the power of the marriage victory and push for comprehensive federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans in all 50 states. 

"The Freedom to Marry campaign is over," he said in his remarks on Thursday. "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."

Vice President Biden called for a renewed resolve to push toward non-discrimination, too. He said:

Although the freedom to marry — and for that marriage to be recognized in all 50 states — is now the law of the land, there are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning and you can be fired in the afternoon.

And I am absolutely confident that when the people and organizations in this room, and the President and I take this fight to the American people, we will win because all we have to do — all we have to do is let them know what the law allows now. Once people realize, this will end, as well. So we have to raise the issue up. We have to expose the darkness to justice. As the great Justice Brandeis once said, disinfectant — the best disinfectant is sunlight. 

So I want you to know this next door is going to be a hell of a lot easier to push open as long as we expose to average Americans the injustice that continues to exist. So let’s all recommit to shine a blazing light on the ugliness of employment discrimination.

The Power of a Driven, Strategic Campaign

Freedom to Marry has been proud to fight on the frontlines of the marriage movement for the past decade. And in order to push ahead so strategically, so pointedly, we have relied on the support and hard work of dozens of organizations, hundreds of individuals and hundreds of thousands of supporters. Thursday evening's Celebration was a testament to all of those players - the donors, the activists, the same-sex couples who talked about why marriage matters, the allies who supported their gay and lesbian friends and family members, the political leaders who fought on behalf of the community, the attorneys who took the case to court, the volunteers who ensured victory at the ballot, the legislators who supported the freedom to marry even in the early days of the fight, the plaintiffs who brought their stories forward in cases, and the millions of Americans who had conversations about why marriage matters.

Freedom to Marry is proud to have brought together this momentum. We are proud to be "going out of business." We are proud to have seen the country take such a wonderful, joyous leap forward. And we are proud to have worked for so long and so hard on an issue that so many Americans care about so deeply. Cheers to everyone who was a part of it - and thank you.