Freedom to Marry
Headquarters Location: New York, NY
Mission: Freedom to Marry is the campaign working to win marriage nationwide. We partner with a diverse range of organizations and supporters across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from the responsibilities, protections, and commitment of marriage.
Corri and Dianne have lived in California since 2003, when they capped off years of long-distance dating (Corri in Washington, Dianne in Texas) by relocating to Los Angeles, excited to live in a progressive state and ready to begin raising a family together. In 2004, during a special vacation getaway to Provincetown, Massachusetts, they exchanged rings and swapped vows, before they ever knew if they'd be able to make the engagement a reality. In 2006, they adopted two daughters, Tina and Raquel, who are now nine and ten years old.
On May 15, 2008, they were grateful and ecstatic to learn that after their four-year engagement, they'd finally be able to marry in California and share in the protections for their family that only marriage provides. Both women have volunteered and worked at local, state and national for LGBT organizations for many years - organizations like the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the Family Pride Coalition in Washington, DC, ACT-UP, and the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas - so the day resonated particularly strong for them.
"Our daughters had known that we were not able to be married - and we would tell them that while we were married in our hearts, it wasn't a legal union," Dianne said. "So when we did finally have the chance to marry in front of them, it was amazing. It was a warm, beautiful day, surrounded by all of these friends supporting us, and it was a great thing for our daughters to see. They took it all in - they know what 'married' means, and it was wonderful for them to be a part of it."
Dianne said that their daughters only had one problem with the day: "They would have preferred that we wore big, white dresses," Dianne joked, adding, "Although our youngest daughter did say that she understood it wasn't our style."
The wedding, on September 20, 2008, was a beautiful day. And that's partly why it was so upsetting when, just two months later, anti-gay forces in the state pushed through Proposition 8, which resulted in a constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples and left 18,000 newly married couples, including Corri and Dianne - in limbo.
Corri worked on the No on 8 campaign to defeat the anti-gay Proposition 8, and that work - paired with the fact that Prop 8 was a direct affront on their family - was what made the pain from the loss run so deep.
"I was with lots of members of our community on election night, and it was devastating," Corri said. "There's no other way to put it than just completely, punched-in-the-gut devastating. To have people that you know or people that you live with or work with or who are parents at your kids' school - to think that people would have voted to say that your family wasn't equal to theirs, there's just no other word for it than 'devastating.'"
Another blow came when the state Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 2009 - although the Court did rule that the 18,000 marriages between same-sex couples that had been performed in the window where Californians had the freedom to marry would remain legal.
"It was great that we could get married in that time when we could," Dianne said. "It's great that we're still considered legally married. But we want that day again when everyone else who wants to marry - people who didn't because they didn't feel ready, or because they had only recently met and fallen in love - has that same opportunity to have those protections and respect that everyone else gets to enjoy."
Californians began seeing the first stages of recovery when they started to see hope in the state courts system. In August of 2010, District Court Judge Walker in California ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, igniting a light for Corri, Dianne, and thousands of other couples.
And the wins have only gotten better and better since Judge Walker's 2010 ruling. In February 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, and now, it faces potential review by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court does not take the case, the lower court rulings will stand and the freedom to marry will be restored in California.
"We just keep riding this roller coaster," Dianne said. "We're riding it every week now waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides in terms of hearing the case. We're constantly on this ride - that's what it's felt like throughout this entire process."
Even if the freedom to marry is restored in California, however, Corri and Dianne explained that marriage in the state alone would not be enough: The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal respect of lawful same-sex marriages, must also be repealed. Because of DOMA, Corri and Dianne, and legally married same-sex couples across the country, are deprived of over 1,100 protections and responsibilities that different-sex couples receive.
"We're still recognized as married in California, but not by the federal government," Corri explained. "So it's a constant issue, and there are major costs associated with that."
"It's a huge concern for how we plan for our future regarding our family finances," Dianne added. "The fact that we won't be able to inherit each other's Social Security is a big deal. The fact that we have to find accountants who can file our tax returns in the particular way they have to be filed is a big deal. The fact that we have to worry about these financial issues as we try to figure out how to fund our daughters' college education is a big deal. These are very real issues."
The couple feels extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to marry, and it pains them to see couples in their state unable to share in that same blessing.
"There is something very powerful about being able to say, 'Yes, I'm married. Period.' - and to have that recognized by law," Corri said. "As much as we had fought for marriage in our different work in the past, and as much as we thought we understood what it was, until you're married, you can't even understand the full weight of it. The wedding is one thing, but the marriage is the long-term thing, and it is deeply meaningful. So when you deny that to people, you're really denying them their humanity, their basic human dignity."
Much of their passion for these issues stems from their love for their family, and their hope that their daughters grow up in a better world. They're already seeing how their daughters' generation is on the path toward building a better society.
"They're older now, so they understand more about civil rights struggles," Corri said about her daughters. "They understand that LGBT people lost the ability to marry in California. And they understand that it was wrong. Even a nine-year-old understands that it is wrong to give people a right and then take it away. That gives us great hope for the future."
If their daughters had their way, that future of a country where same-sex couples no longer have to fight for the freedom to marry would arrive as soon as possible.
"Our youngest daughter says that when she becomes president, she has three big things she's going to do," Dianne said. "She's going to ban smoking, ban certain mean jokes from her sister, and allow gay people to be married." Dianne laughed, marveling at the simple solution her daughter has proposed, knowing, truly, that the emotional roller coaster that same-sex couples in California and beyond have been riding for so long must end soon.
"Those are her plans for her presidency," Dianne said. "Hopefully, we won't have to wait until 2040."
Expert Reviews of Freedom to Marry
Evidence of Impact Summary:Though their campaign work is at the state level, Freedom to Marry (FTM) has brought the marriage equality debate to the national stage. They have had a strong hand in shifting public opinion on the topic. Not only that, but their efforts have been a significant force in passing legislation in several states and D.C. FTM have also cultivated a nationwide network of local marriage equality organizations. They offer coordination and support for these various organizations.
See expert comments.
Organization Strengths Summary:Freedom to Marry (FTM) is known as a strategic organization. Their savvy campaigns have thoughtfully approached the use of language, research, and political climate. Similarly, the organization has a sharp focus, which has been very helpful in achieving wins. FTM has strong leadership. Their leaders are deeply invested in the cause, as well as extremely knowledgeable; in fact, all of the FTM staff is said to be quite knowledgeable. Another organizational strength is FTM’s role in building a supportive network of marriage equality groups of all sizes across the US.
See expert comments.
Areas for Improvement Summary:Several experts would like to see Freedom to Marry (FTM) become more inclusive in their practices. The marketing and framing, for example, could be representative of a broad array of races and socio-economic backgrounds. Similarly, experts worry that the narrow focus may detract from opportunities to connect to like-minded social movements. The organization’s leadership can be challenging at times, which is something the organization will need to overcome. FTM could also improve on their collaborations and their funding strategy.
See expert comments.
Expert Comments: Evidence of Impact
|They have effective campaigns that have moved marriage equality significantly forward in the US. They have a laser focus and smart strategy to attain goals.|
|Freedom to Mary has had a significant impact on public education for marriage equality since its founding. This includes shaping strategies to move public support on the issue over time and technical assistance to state-based and other groups to do same. Also, they've had significant public policy impact in the same area regarding challenges to federal laws and policies based on discriminatory treatment of LGBT relationships.|
|Freedom to Marry has coordinated advocacy across organizations that has led to the freedom to marry being enacted into law in many states.|
|Their impact is evident by the passage of marriage equality laws at the state level. They offer consistent and strong messaging at the national level on why marriage equality is important.|
Increased National Dialog
|Their impact is evidenced by the high visibility of the issue of same-sex marriage in the broader culture and the significant change in attitudes towards marriage in the country.|
|Freedom to Marry has helped shape the dialogue, not just in states facing marriage legislation, but also in states where marriage is not a viable option at this time.|
|Their impact can be seen in the transformation of the marriage issue as a priority for the LGBT movement since 2000. Also it can be seen in the mobilization of community resources to win critical victories since 2004.|
|Since expanding the organization several years ago, Freedom to Marry has had a significant impact on moving the marriage conversation forward in a number of states and supporting the upcoming marriage referenda, particularly in Maine, Washington, and Minnesota.|
|Marriage has come to the forefront of the move toward equality for the LGBT community largely because of the efforts of Freedom to Marry. Evan Wolfson has been obsessive about the viability of marriage for the last 15 years and the movement has made unimaginable headway since that time. Public opinion has moved so quickly that what was once unimaginable is now reality in 6 states and D.C., and on the horizon for many others. Public leaders have taken a stance in favor of civil unions, which once seemed radical, with marriage as a poison pill to make civil unions more acceptable, now clearly a second-class status, unacceptable to the LGBT community.|
Coordination and Support for Groups
|Freedom to Marry has become the national leader on strategic advocacy for advancing same-sex marriage at the state level across the country. It is perceived as the "go-to" place for advice and guidance on organizing and evaluating strategies for building campaigns for marriage equality for same-sex couples.|
|They have created a national network for sharing messaging and research that is saving the movement a tremendous amount of time and energy. Plus, we're winning on marriage!|
|They offer support for statewide groups to pursue marriage equality in legislatures and before voters seen in legislative victories and referendum battles.|
Expert Comments: Organization Strengths
|They have effective leadership. Another strength is the fact that the organization is organized as a campaign. This means that it can be singularly focused on its issue, and not distracted by other matters.|
|Their strengths are strategic messaging campaigns and materials as well as leadership in keeping colleagues focused on the desired outcomes.|
|Operations is their strong suit. They also know the ins and outs of what works to gain support for marriage.|
|Their strength is their ability to leverage; they have an impact disproportionate to their size. They also have strong intellectual capital and strategic thinking.|
|Their strength is tactical sophistication. They also have clarity and a passionate focus on one issue—marriage equality.|
|Evan Wolfson, its founder, is brilliant as a strategist. Having been involved in the marriage equality movement since the earliest days, he brings tremendous knowledge to the field. Separate and apart, Freedom to Marry has developed a fundraising campaign that benefits all groups working for marriage equality.|
|The FTM staff has expanded to include very strategic leadership (Marc, Thalia, and Thomas). They are also providing good resources to all states.|
|They have an incredibly talented senior team and an unrelenting commitment to the marriage issue. They are focusing resources and expertise on obtaining marriage equality throughout the country.|
|Their strength is their visionary leadership leading to amazing funding and growth in a short time.|
Strong Networking and Support
|FTM has become a leading public voice for the marriage movement and has become a central clearinghouse for the movement on the best messaging research on the marriage issue. FTM has also provided leadership for other national organizations and for state-based LGBT advocacy organizations, bringing know-how and resources where needed.|
|FTM works to direct resources to well-functioning, viable campaigns, including monetary and polling resources. Also, the FTM leaders have a credible plan to spread marriage equality throughout the US.|
|One strength is the very strong leadership of Evan Wolfson, who has been an advocate for marriage equality since long before it was popular. They also have very good and consistent messaging on the issue, as well as strong support for local marriage equality groups.|
Expert Comments: Areas for Improvement
Be More Inclusive
|FTM needs more diversity in terms of staff, Board, and approach. Though recently the organization has made great strides towards achieving that.|
|They could improve by offering clarity about the urgency of this issue for people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds.|
|I would like to see more variation in the faces and voices representing the organization. They could also use even greater social science-based sophistication on public education tactics and campaigns, lessons learned, etc.|
|They can be too narrowly focused and miss making the connections to other movements for social justice.|
|They could be more collaborative in their approach.|
|FTM could improve and expand the capacity of its c4 (advocacy arm). They could also work on even better collaboration with national partners.|
|FTM’s executive leadership is a challenge and can come across as very off-putting at times.|
|I don't know whether the organization could move forward in the same way without its founder, who is extremely forceful and domineering. He has always pushed marriage to the exclusion of all other issues and challenged everyone to get on board or be subject to his wrath.|
Revisit Funding Approach
|They sometimes ruffle feathers with their decisions about funding. Their strategy of contributing to winning campaigns is less useful for places that need to move the ball forward but are a long way from winning, as in the recent North Carolina referendum loss.|
|They could use better marketing so more people know about the work of the organization.|