Marriage Equality's December Advocate of the Month

2 Dec 2010

Evan Wolfson

Following his whirlwind visit to Ireland from the 12-15 of November, Marriage Equality are delighted to name Evan Wolfson as December's Advocate of the Month. Evan is the founder and Executive Director of Freedom to Marry - a US-based gay/straight partnership organisation, and one of the world's leading LGBT rights activists.

He first tackled the issue of marriage equality in 1983, in a paper for Harvard Law. In 1999, his work with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund included the landmark Baehr v. Miike case in Hawaii, in which the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying may violate Hawaii's constitutional equal protection clause unless it is justified by a compelling reason. He was also instrumental in the Baker v. Vermont case, which resulted in the creation of civil unions for LGBT couples in the US state of Vermont.

For his important work in the struggle for marriage equality, and his role in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, Evan was named as one of "the 100 most influential lawyers in America" by the National Law Journal in 2000. Four years later, in 2004, he was named one of Time magazine's "100 most influential people in the world", joining such prestigious former awardees as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

During his brief visit to Ireland, Evan met with a wide range of LGBT activists and supporters, from the Board and Staff of Marriage Equality, to a morning meeting on effective messaging with some representatives from LGBT organisations working for marriage equality, to a discussion for lawyers organised by Marriage Equality and the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) (with Brian Barrington, BL and Geoffrey Shannon, child law expert) on why civil partnership is not enough.

On November 15, Marriage Equality and the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (NLGF) invited Evan to share his thoughts and opinions in an interview with Brian Finnegan, editor of Ireland's Gay Community News (GCN). During the interview, he challenged the notion that the Irish Constitution could be seen as a barrier to marriage equality, arguing instead that constitutional provisions in relation to equality should compel equal access to marriage for same sex couples and equality for our families.

Evan praised the work that has been done in Ireland to date around public education and mobilisation and reminded us that the latest opinion polls show that nearly 7 out of 10 people in Ireland now support marriage equality - a figure much higher than in opinion polls in the U.S. He stressed that Civil Partnership legislation, which is to come into effect early next year, should be viewed as a springboard to equality and encouraged all of us to continue to push for equal access to marriage rights for same sex couples, suggesting that since we've come this far, it would not require much further action on behalf of the government to legislate for equality.

"Marriage - unlike a civil partnership - assures full protections and respect. No other legal status provides the full range of tangible protections and the intangible personal significance of marriage."


He also highlighted the difference between civil and religious marriage. Civil marriage, he argued, is the responsibility of the State. Just as the State is respectful of church sanctioned marriages, and would not presume to tell churches who they may or may not marry, so too, he argued, the churches should be respectful of civil marriages, and those couples who choose to have a civil marriage ceremony.

We were delighted that Evan was able to visit Ireland and share his inspiring words with us all. Having faced similar issues, challenges and difficulties, he remains an optimistic, encouraging force for change, and we're delighted to have him as an ally.

"Marriage is a legal institution. Marriage is a personal commitment. Marriage is a vocabulary. Marriage is a religious and spiritual, diverse set of ceremonies that vary from faith to faith, and place to place, and century to century. It has so much meaning. It has so much consequence, and it is so personal as well as political, that to simply allow a group of people to be denied it means that that group is not equal, is not free, is not protected and is not able to participate fully in the society."

Evan Wolfson - December's Advocate of the Month

 

Did you miss Evan's interview with Brian Finnegan on November 15th? David Hawk, from Queer FM has a podcast from our event, plus an interview with Evan's at the end. Listen to it here!

 

Update 06.12.2010 - The Sunday Business Post ran an article on Evan's visit to Ireland. Read it here!