‘Love,’ Not Rights

It’s hard to remember now, a year after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision declared a right to marry in all 50 states, how unlikely that result seemed just a decade ago

“We were thrilled that President Obama came out in support of marriage for same-sex couples using the love and commitment and journey framework that was proving so effective elsewhere.” Not talk about rights. Focus-group-tested talk about love. Love sells.

 

In 2012, President Barack Obama said in an ABC interview, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” A White House statement added detail: “It’s no secret the President has gone through some soul-searching on this issue. … He’s sat around his kitchen table with Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. … ‘And frankly,’ [Obama said,] ‘that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective.’”

Evan Wolfson, founder of national gay rights organization Freedom to Marry, lauded the statement. He had helped the White House craft it using research-tested elements: “We were thrilled that President Obama came out in support of marriage for same-sex couples using the love and commitment and journey framework that was proving so effective elsewhere.” Not talk about rights. Focus-group-tested talk about love. Love sells.

It’s hard to remember now, a year after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision declared a right to marry in all 50 states, how unlikely that result seemed just a decade ago. Gay marriage proponents had suffered one defeat after another at the ballot box. But activist groups and foundations turned things around with a strategic plan, a state-by-state strategy, and money—$153 million, they claim. Here’s the story of how that happened and what’s likely to happen next.

The success story begins 16 years ago when the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, established with the Levi Strauss fortune and eager to push for LGBT acceptance, approached Lambda Legal attorney Evan Wolfson for advice on where the foundation should concentrate its giving.

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