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Path to Equality

Supplements to the article “Equal Effort.”

 

The advance of marriage equality for gay men and lesbians in the United States, both in courtrooms and in statehouses, is among the more noteworthy examples of social activism to occur over the past decade. Underlying the high-profile activists in the marriage equality movement are lower-profile foundation leaders who have provided the movement with financial support and strategic guidance. Sylvia Yee, vice president of programs at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, discusses the movement from a funder’s perspective in “Equal Effort,” a Viewpoint article published in the Fall 2014 issue of SSIR.

To supplement the article, we share two items that highlight the role played by the Haas, Jr. Fund in the marriage equality movement. We present this material essentially in its original form, and with thanks to Yee and her colleagues at the Haas, Jr. Fund.


Matt Foreman, director of gay and immigrant rights programs at the Haas, Jr. Fund, suggests that the push for marriage equality has reached an important crossroads. There have been major successes on which activists can now build, but there are daunting roadblocks that remain in place. He discusses both sides of current situation in an interview posted at the Haas, Jr. Fund website. That interview appears below, in a lightly edited form. (You can view the original interview here.)

What’s Next for the Marriage Movement?

Where does the movement for marriage now stand? The last decade has seen some remarkable gains for marriage. But for me, gay people in this country continue to live a “Tale of Two Cities.” For many gays and lesbians, it truly is the best of times. But for many others, it certainly is not. And I do think there is a clear and present danger in thinking that the movement’s work is done, or that further gains are inevitable because of the progress we have seen to date.

Let’s start with the good news. What are the biggest successes of the gay and lesbian rights movement in recent years? By any objective measure, the movement has made extraordinary progress in a short period of time. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry; today, there is marriage equality in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. And in 2013 the US Supreme Court ended federal discrimination against same-sex couples.

Over the last two decades, the number of states protecting lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from discrimination has more than doubled (to 21), and these states plus the District of Columbia cover 44 percent of the US population.

These are real, tangible benefits that affect these couples’ quality of life and, for many, their ability to stay out of poverty.

It’s truly extraordinary that all of this has happened in so short a time. At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we are absolutely thrilled to be part of a movement that is achieving real wins for gay and lesbian people across the country.

OK, so what’s the not-so-good news? Well, given all these great gains I have talked about, it’s little wonder that the media is full of pundits saying that the fight for marriage equality has already been won, that gay and lesbian equality is inevitable, and that our opponents are in full-scale retreat.

I could not disagree more. The fact is [that a] majority of states do not protect LGBT people from discrimination or have any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. And as hard as it might be to believe, there are 29 states where you can still fire [people] or deny them housing or even service in a restaurant for the simple reason that they are gay.

There are real costs to this inequality. Gay and lesbian people are losing their jobs, they’re paying more for benefits and taxes, and they are having a harder time providing for their families. That’s not fair, it’s hurting people and their families, and it needs to be fixed.

What needs to happen for the movement to go the next round and take on these remaining problems? Achieving any kind of progress in the states with no nondiscrimination protections and no relationship recognition for gay and lesbian people is going to be a very hard fight.

The gay rights movement is going to need more support from more foundations and more business leaders and more people, gay and straight. This is about making sure our country and our communities—everywhere—live up to the idea that we all should have the same rights and opportunities, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.

The bottom line is that people need to tune out the message from the media and popular culture that gay and lesbian people are solidly in the mainstream now and enjoy the same rights as everyone else. We don’t, and it is causing real harm.

The Haas, Jr. Fund is determined to support the movement’s ongoing work. And we are hoping that a lot of other foundations and other partners will help us finish this fight.


Early and continued support by foundations such as the Haas, Jr. Fund has played pivotal and largely unheralded role in enabling marriage equality advocates to sustain their efforts. Yee, in her SSIR article, takes a wide-angle look at the history of that support over the past decade. Here, in a lightly edited form, is a more detailed survey of how the Haas, Jr. Fund has engaged with the movement for marriage equality. (You can view the original timeline here.)

The Haas, Jr. Fund’s History With Equality

The US Supreme Court cases on marriage equality have focused new attention on the movement for gay and lesbian rights and its fight over many years to secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in the United States. The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund has been a leader in this fight from the start, investing more than $60 million toward marriage equality and nondiscrimination efforts over the last [13] years. Learn how the movement has evolved over the years, how the fund’s grantees have done heroic work to move marriage forward, and how we got where we are today.

2001 No state offers gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry, and only one state (Vermont) permits same-sex couples to enter into civil unions that offer some of the protections of marriage. In addition, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, restricts federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples only. The Haas, Jr. Fund becomes the first foundation, gay or straight, to embrace marriage equality as a major priority. In May, the fund makes a major grant of $2.5 million to support the creation of Freedom to Marry as a unifying force for those working for marriage equality across the country.

2002 The Haas, Jr. Fund makes its first grant to support marriage equality in its home state of California. The road to marriage equality experiences many highs and lows over the ensuing decade as the fund works with amazing partners such as Let California Ring, which becomes the nation’s largest-ever public-education campaign on the issue. The fund has invested more than $12 million in California organizations working on marriage to date.

2003 Freedom to Marry officially launches with continuing major support from the fund, taking on DOMA and working to win marriage [equality] across more states. In addition to advancing marriage equality, the Haas, Jr. Fund continues supporting nondiscrimination efforts, based on the belief that these basic protections are an essential step toward marriage equality and broader acceptance for gay and lesbian people.

2004 Massachusetts becomes the first state in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry as a result of litigation by Haas, Jr. Fund grantee Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Also in 2004, the Haas, Jr. Fund becomes a founding supporter—[along] with the Gill and Columbia foundations, the Open Society Institute, and [others]—of the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which brings leading funders of gay and lesbian equality together to ensure that their grantmaking is contributing as effectively as possible to the long-term vision of achieving equal marriage rights from coast to coast.

2005 In California, the state legislature becomes the first to pass a freedom to marry bill, but the bill is vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Californians are still subject to Proposition 22, a 2000 ballot measure approved by voters that effectively outlaws same-sex marriage in the state. During the same year, the fund increases its support for key marriage equality movement organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Lambda Legal. [These] national gay legal groups are able to implement a coordinated litigation and public-education campaign that results in several court victories in the years to follow.

2006 Anti-gay activists across the country continue their push for state amendments banning same-sex marriage. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of states with constitutional amendments against marriage rises to 24. During the November elections, however, Arizona becomes the first state to reject an anti-marriage amendment at the ballot box.

2007 The Haas, Jr. Fund joins with the Gill Foundation and Wellspring Advisors to create the State Equality Fund to provide multiyear support for non-lobbying educational work promoting progress toward full equality for gays and lesbians, including safer schools, nondiscrimination, and civil unions. The Haas, Jr. Fund also launches a major initiative to support the Institute for Welcoming Resources, its partners, and other faith groups to change hearts and minds on gay equality among people of faith, investing $8 million through 2012. As a result of this work, thousands [of] religious leaders and people of faith have become advocates for gay equality, and four of the five major mainline Protestant denominations have repealed anti-gay policies.

2008 As a result of a court case brought by Haas, Jr. Fund grantee NCLR, the California Supreme Court overturns the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in May 2008, and 18,000 [same-sex] couples are married. In November, however, voters approve Proposition 8, a ballot proposal denying same-sex California couples the right to marry, in a clear setback for the movement for equal marriage rights in California. In the aftermath of the 2008 election, the Haas, Jr. Fund backs a new round of research to understand how to reach and move people on the importance of marriage equality. This research plays a pivotal role in turning the tide years later.

2009 Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire join the growing roster of states [together with the District of Columbia] allowing same-sex marriage, and Nevada passes a broad domestic partnership law. In California, the state Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8 but states that [same-sex] marriages [enacted] between June and November 2008 remain valid. In Perry v. Schwarzenegger (later Hollingsworth v. Perry), two same-sex couples file a lawsuit arguing that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

2010 Following an extensive trial, US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker issues a broad ruling in the Perry case holding that Proposition 8 violates the US Constitution. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds that decision on narrower grounds, and the case eventually goes to the Supreme Court. In late 2010, the Haas, Jr. Fund joins with its movement partners in celebrating the repeal of the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, an action that marks a crucial gain in acceptance for gay people in American society. Longtime fund grantees such as the Palm Center and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network play a critical role in advancing the cause of repeal.

2011 In February, the Obama administration instructs the US Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA in court. In 2010 and 2011, judges rule that DOMA is unconstitutional in a number of court cases. The Supreme Court eventually agrees to hear one of the cases, Windsor v. United States. At the state level, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signs a marriage equality bill into law in June, more than doubling the number of Americans living in marriage equality states (to 11.3 percent). That year, the Haas, Jr. Fund initiates the Breakthrough Conversation Project in California to get more gay people to talk about issues of equality with family, friends, and neighbors. The project is based on research showing that when these conversations take place, support for equality increases dramatically.

2012 President Obama says in a television interview, “I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The statement is an important advance in a year when public opinion polls begin to show a national majority supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples. States entering the marriage equality column through laws and successful ballot measures include Washington, Maryland, and Maine.

2013 The legislatures in Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Delaware enact marriage equality laws. [Thus] 12 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to marry. These states are home to nearly one in five Americans. In June, the Supreme Court issues two historic rulings on marriage equality. In Windsor v. United States, the Court finds that DOMA is unconstitutional, meaning that federal discrimination against married same-sex couples will come to an end. A separate ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry [results] in same-sex marriage returning to California.

 
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