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Interactive video lesson plan for: The Gay Rights Playbook Is a Model for Change in America | Evan Wolfson

Activity overview:

For four decades, gay rights activists and couples who appealed to the courts for the right to marry their partners were fighting against a legal system. The real battle, however, was against public perception. Evan Wolfson, founder of the national bipartisan organization Freedom to Marry, outlines the strategy that transformed public understanding and led to a triumph in the Supreme Court in June 2015. It wasn’t the legal appeals or height of the headlines that brought marriage equality to gay people, Wolfson says, rather it was millions of quieter, more personal conversations “around coffee tables and living rooms and water coolers in offices” that became the necessary engine of change. It’s much more difficult to deny a person a basic human right one on one, face to face. Wolfson opens his strategic playbook to Americans in a time of cavernous political division. “The elements of success [of Freedom to Marry] are very applicable and adaptable... for other causes, other organizations, other countries, other ways of moving our society forward, getting our country back on track, and making a better world,” he says. Wolfson and the marriage equality story are the subject of the new documentary The Freedom to Marry, in cinemas now.


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Gay people have been seeking the freedom to marry in the United States since what we talk about as the dawn of the modern gay rights movement. We usually date that movement's beginning a little erroneously to Stonewall and the pushback against police harassment that was pervasive at the time here in New York City at the Stonewall Inn in 1969.
So within three years of Stonewall there were major cases brought by couples seeking the freedom to marry all across the country, percolating through the courts all the way up, and one of them even reached the United States Supreme Court in 1972. The Supreme Court in 1972, like all the other courts, rubber-stamped the discrimination throughout those couples. The courts weren't ready, the conversation hadn’t yet happened, and the country wasn't ready.

Well, the goal of the Freedom to Marry, the goal of our strategy and the goal that many in our movement rallied around over these four-plus decades was to get the Supreme Court to say “yes” to what it had said “no” to in 1972. But the strategy said that the way we're going to do that is not just by filing more briefs or leaving it to the lawyers alone, but instead by shaping the entire climate in which the decision makers, including judges and the justices, were thinking about this.

In other words while litigation was the way in which we were going to deliver the victory, in order for litigation to succeed we needed to win in the court of public opinion in order to win in the court of law.

Tagged under: Evan Wolfson,Gay Rights,LGBT,Law,Supreme Court,Freedom Marry,Public Opinion,Legislation,Lawyer,Attorney,Activism,Big Think,BigThink,BigThink.,Education,Educational,Lifelong Learning,EDU

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