BY AJ TRAGER
LANSING – Michigan For Marriage was organized as a collaborative public education campaign to build support for marriage equality in Michigan and has spent the last few years gathering communities together to talk about same-sex marriage. Gina Calcagno joined M4M in 2014 as coalition manager after working on establishing non-discrimination ordinances in Michigan municipalities with (now) Rep. Jon Hoadley.
Calcagno is in charge of the day to day advocacy for the campaign, management of press statements, organizing community conversations and connecting with LGBT couples in the state.
Having been continuously involved with the marriage equality movement for the past year, Calcagno sat down with BTL for a final one-on-one to discuss her journey with the Michigan For Marriage campaign.
What have your responsibilities been?
I’m in charge of the day to day that sort of goes on with an advocacy campaign. I serve as the main spokesperson for the campaign; I was recently in charge of hiring a team of folks to help out with the campaign and managing them. I hired four consultants, each from a different group in the area. The other thing that I’m largely responsible for is just talking to people across the state, collecting stories, getting face to face with these couples who have been striving for marriage equality and are looking to protect their families. I am a story collector and that’s awesome.
How many couples have you spoken to?
Over a hundred, closer to 200. I have spoken to people who I am pretty sure met at the Pride festival that we (M4M) were at, and I’ve spoken to couples who have been together for 47 years. I have spoken to couples who talked to me about the activism scene from the 1970s. I’ve heard a lot from our older couples: ‘We never imagined that we would be able to get married in our lifetime.’ Couples who say, ‘We don’t understand why we cannot get married in our lifetime.’ There are a few couples that I’ve spoken to who are surprised at how few rights they have. And that is always surprising for me. It’s partially because I eat, sleep and breathe this stuff that I’m completely marinated in it.
What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
It is really difficult to see certain people actively working against the progress that we’ve made. It’s difficult to see bills like the adoption RFRAs being passed and to hear the words that are spoken by our elected officials who are supporting this. I know people who are impacted by these laws. I’ve spoken to them. I’ve seen their children; I’ve looked into these children’s faces. To think that they might not have that life or the chance to have those parents — it’s heartbreaking to hear people talking about our families that way.
What are you going to do after marriage equality?
There is still a lot to be tackled. There are still non-discrimination protections, defending against additional RFRAs and defeating the RFRAs that have already been passed and signed into law. In terms of my line of work that I really love doing, I am happy that I will have a job. I am unhappy that my job is needed. But I am going to continue working to put myself out of business.
What would you say to members of the LGBT community who don’t believe the most important issue for LGBT people is marriage equality?
I can understand why marriage equality might not be important to certain members; however, the fact of the matter is that we can do work on more than one issue. If we are truly going to be working at the intersections, then we need to be working on non-discrimination, youth homelessness, hate crimes, police brutality and economic injustice, and we need to be working on all of those things alongside marriage equality. And so, I don’t think that you can really pull them apart. The conversations that I’ve had with couples tell me that they aren’t that far apart because the same people who are striving to make ends meet also feel that their lives would be a little better if they could get married and wouldn’t have to worry about health insurance on a joint plan opposed to an individual plan. You can’t pick one issue out and say this is the most important issue, because they’re all the most important issue. We are not going to advance unless we are always keeping those other issues in mind.
How is the Supreme Court decision going to affect you personally?
If the decision goes down negatively, it will personally mean for me that I will continue working for marriage equality. I will continue working to protect my family and I will continue to work to protect other people’s families.
If the decision comes down positively, I guess I have a fifth and final wedding ceremony to plan. My partner and I have been together for 14.5 years, we have a domestic partnership from Cook County from 2005, a civil union from New Jersey from 2007, a church wedding in Illinois from 2008 and a domestic partnership in East Lansing from 2013, but we are single in the state of Michigan. We’ve been saying that the fifth time is the charm.
What are the major changes that will affect couples as a result of an affirming decision from SCOTUS?
So, there are all these rights and benefits that come along with marriage. And those are great, those are icing on the cake. But more so than that, it’s going to be that affirmation that you are not less than. That the state does actually have to recognize your family and that your family is recorded in the history books as being together. That you have come together and made this public commitment of responsibility and love. That is huge. I’ve heard from so many people who have been together for so long and didn’t think that getting married was going to be a big deal. And then as the clerk was saying, ‘I now pronounce you married,’ they started crying and had no idea why. It’s because it’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal.
Any Additional Thoughts?
I’d like to thank not just April (DeBoer) and Jayne (Rowse) and the legal team who have spent the last three years of their lives going through this battle, but I’d like to thank the other hands, heads and hearts in this battle that have come before. I think about the gentleman who lost his partner on the anniversary of the marriage decision, and I think about the people who have been doing this for 43 years and I know that I wouldn’t be here without them. And I know that we collectively wouldn’t be here without them. I am so grateful that I have been allowed to work with some of the big names, minds and hearts of the LGBT equality movement.