Tactics, strategy, and marriage equality.

Author:Rosen, Hilary
Position:Marriage Equality and Reproductive Rights: Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead

Thank you for having me. I'm going to focus my remarks today on being tactical. As law students, hopefully you will all go into the social justice field and go on and do great things for everyone, but frankly a lot of what I'm going to talk about in these couple of minutes will be as relevant for almost any set of litigation or legal problems that you have, almost any kind of high-profile cases.

My firm has done LGBT work for many years. I personally have been involved in the movement for many years too, back to the AIDS crisis where Urvashi Vaid and I were lobbyists on the Hill together getting federal funding, and later, I ran the campaign to stop the federal marriage amendment that George Bush had proposed for our federal constitution. But last year really was a huge highlight for me and for us as a firm. We ran the media operation for a coalition of organizations that came together knowing we were going to have two cases before the Supreme Court on marriage at the same time that the country was exhibiting a little bit of unease about whether or not we were ready to go to the Court. And so the groups, under the leadership of Evan Wolfson at Freedom to Marry and Chad Griffin at the Human Rights Campaign and Mary Bonauto at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and James Esseks at ACLU and Adam Umhoefer at the American Foundation for Equal Rights, all got together and said, we ought to coordinate this.

So when we got together we thought--what do you need to do to create a media campaign around a case that's going to the Supreme Court? And we started with five principles.

The first principle was that our challenge from a media perspective wasn't going to be about making the legal case. Instead, our challenge was really going to be to create an environment that showed that the country was ready for the Justices to come to the right decision. So you know, Justices are humans, and they read the newspaper and they go to cocktail parties and they have debates within their safe communities about social issues. And so we knew that the biggest issue to potentially confront them was: Will the Court be moving ahead of the people? And courts don't really like to often move ahead of the people. So we had to prove the country was ready.

The second was--this is a court. It's not a public entity of elected officials. So direct lobbying, externally, in the media and in other places is unseemly. We had to have a level of respect in our public education campaign that recognized that the Justices, whatever decision they came to, were purely going to be about the law, because there's never any politics. Never any personal views going into a judicial interpretation. [Laughter in audience] All decisions are really strictly based on the law. [More laughter] So we had to go along with that farce as we conducted our respectful campaign.


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