Freedom to marry's ladder of clarity: lessons from a winning campaign (that is not yet won).

Author:Wolfson, Evan
Position:Marriage Equality and Reproductive Rights: Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead

Evan Wolfson: Thank you, Suzanne. Let me start where Heather started, picking up also on what Suzanne just said, that many of us on both panels so far and throughout the day have worked together, some for decades. We have laughed together and fought together for decades. And we've welcomed in, and had the benefit of new people coming in--the next waves of talent, such as many of you here today. That's what really has led to the success that we celebrate today.

It has not always been easy, and we have not always been in agreement. (1) But there's a team of people here who have shared a vision and have shared the work and it's meant a lot, I think, to all of us. It is good to also be able to really welcome more in, because we all know that the work will never be done and there's always room for new energy, new talent, new ideas, and new partnerships as we work together to get our country closer to what we want it to be.

One of the happy consequences of the relative success and momentum we're seeing in this Freedom to Marry campaign has been that I increasingly am now asked to come and speak to other movements and stakeholders and funders and operatives about how have we done it. (2) Why has our campaign been so successful to this degree so far, when so much else in our country has not gone the way we want it?

The first thing that I always tell them is that we may be held up today as a model, but for most of it, it's been a muddle. There have been plenty of challenges and defeats and stumbles and imperfections--and we are not done. It is really important to understand that we have a lot to offer, there are a lot of lessons to be taken, but it didn't come easily. It'll sound linear and strategic and so on--and much of it has been strategic--but much of it has also been a response to history and other forces, and the undeniable reality that the work of social justice and inclusion is never done.

So having said that, here are some of the elements of success that we have come to in our imperfect way:

First of all, in the Freedom to Marry campaign, we have had relatively very great clarity on what I think of as the four rungs of the "ladder of clarity" needed for success.

You always should start with where you want to go--so first, the top rung.

We had great clarity about the vision. The goal. What are we working to achieve. How do we know when we've won. If you can't say what winning is, you're not going to be able to get there as effectively as you need to, because (1) you may not be going in the right direction, and (2) you won't be able to inspire and encourage others to come in and join you. So it's important to have clarity about what the goal of this campaign, or any campaign, is.

When I started advocating for the freedom to marry quite a long time ago, I picked that goal for two reasons. (3) One is that marriage is important, a singular bundle of tangible and intangible meanings, protections, and responsibilities. Being denied marriage is intolerable. Being denied marriage, or any important opportunity, by the government, is the most intolerable form of discrimination--state-sponsored discrimination. So to me, our challenging the denial of the freedom to marry was important, because marriage is important in and of itself.

But my second reason for picking this goal of winning marriage as what I wanted us to devote our energies to, to the extent I could encourage that, was that winning the freedom to marry would be claiming a vocabulary that would be about more than just marriage. It would be about, as so many people...

To continue reading