Outward

How the Mastermind of Marriage Equality Felt the Moment He Realized He’d Won

Evan Wolfson, the mastermind of marriage equality. 

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by David Shankbone/Flickr and Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters.

Evan Wolfson, the mastermind of marriage equality, is having a pretty good summer. On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The decision marked the culmination of his life’s work: In 1983, Wolfson essentially created the marriage equality movement, and he has been at its forefront ever since as president of Freedom to Marry.

I’ll talk to Wolfson in detail about his hard-fought campaign and ultimate victory at Outward’s live New York show on July 13. On Tuesday, we chatted about his immediate reaction to the marriage ruling—and where he’ll go from here.

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How did you first hear about the ruling?

We were all in the conference room, and I have all these wonderful young digital whiz kids, but I was the one who saw the news first, in a tweet. I said, “Oh my God, we won.” Then everybody started seeing it. We were ready with the champagne, we did a quick toast, and then we all hit the battle stations.

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Did you have a chance to actually read the opinion?

I went back to my office and read it. As I was reading, I found myself crying, paragraph after paragraph. I had this flood of memories that each passage would bring up—conversations I’d had, things I had written, exchanges with many of the pioneers and others in the movement from the ’70s and ’80s. Each passage would just bring up so much meaning and memory. So I was crying.

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And I realized later in the weekend I was also crying from relief. For several decades I’ve been saying we can win. We can do this. And I’ve always believed we could. And I’ve also believed that even if we didn’t win this time, we would get there. I was so relieved and happy that now we’re done. I don’t have to summon that optimism and keep pushing forward. We are there.

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What did you think about the legal reasoning in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion?

I think Kennedy did what he often does. He took these two foundational constitutional values of liberty and equality and wrote with them together. He argued, correctly, that these two core constitutional pillars stand together and point in the same direction. He drew heavily from and talked about the freedom to marry. But he also talked about the meaning of inclusion and equality. So I see it as a ruling that, in true Kennedy jurisprudence form, is both a freedom and an equal protection ruling.

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Do you think the LGBTQ community will have an easier time winning other legal protections—employment nondiscrimination, for instance—now that it has won marriage equality?

Winning the freedom to marry and sustaining the marriage conversation that moves hearts and minds gives us even more momentum for the other work ahead. The marriage work is not done. We’ve won the freedom to marry under the law. But now we want to take that conversation to places where it’s only just beginning, like Texas and Alabama. Let people there have the same chance to open their hearts that the rest of the country has had. Then we need to harness that powerful marriage conversation to the work of securing the other legal gains.

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Important as this legal and political work is, it’s not just about the law. We don’t just want good law. We want good lives. We need to be working as a community, as a movement, as a country, to really make sure people’s lived experience is a good and healthy and safe and free and inspiring one—no matter where they live.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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