The first thing Evan Wolfson tells reporters is to stop calling the movement “gay marriage.”
“That makes it sound like something different or something new. Marriage isn’t new. We have marriage in this country and the government issues certificates for it,” he says. ”
They deny those certificates to certain people and that is discrimination. This is about marriage equality, about the freedom to marry. This is about ending exclusion from something that people already have, not some scary change. Not gay marriage. It’s important not to buy into opposition terms.”
That is why Wolfson started Freedom to Marry in 2003, as an organization dedicated to working with other LGBT and civil rights organizations around the country to create dialogues about impact of marriage discrimination on society, and to teach others how they can share their stories.
Freedom to Marry works with groups and individuals to explain the fight for inclusion in a way that will help others less familiar with the gay community to understand the problems that living without marriage – and the benefits that come along with it – have on families and human beings. They use litigation, legislation, direct action and public education to create change in as many ways as possible.
“There are two kinds of opposition,” Wolfson says. “That which is organized by anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-separation of church and state people who organize all out attacks for their own personal gain. Those people you probably aren’t going to reach. But the other opposition is very different. It includes people who aren’t haters, bigots or bad people.”
Wolfson says these people “may not understand the human impact” and what the issue of marriage equality is really all about.
“It’s our job to reach them with real stories about real people,” he explains. “These people can be moved, so they’re the ones we need to reach out to.”
To help bring more of these kinds of conversations, Wolfson will serve as the keynote speaker at the Triangle Foundation’s annual Catalyst Awards presentation dinner on Oct. 3 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dearborn. Tickets to the event are $150, and include an opening reception with Hors d’oeuvres, music and a silent auction at 6 p.m., plus dinner in the Grand Ballroom, the awards presentation ceremony following dinner and the evening wrapping up with Wolfson’s speech about the future of marriage equality in Michigan.
“I’m coming to Michigan because right now your state has a terrible burden of discriminatory laws that are harming people,” he says. “It’s important that we can raise our voices.”
Though there is legislation being pushed forward to repeal the 2004 Proposal 2 ban on same-sex marriages in the state, Wolfson contends that the real catalyst for change is going to have to come from each individual talking to other people about their beliefs and changing the public perception one human being at a time.
“People in Michigan need to know that it’s their neighbor down the street or down the hall that is denied benefits and basic freedom,” Wolfson says. “They have to see for themselves how discrimination hurts people.”
Wolfson urges every individual to simply begin talking to other people about the issue, and letting them know what their opinions are. “Start with the easy people and work your way outward to people who may or may not agree with you. Be ready to answer questions and be patient.”
He also suggests making phone calls and sending e mails to others.
“Another way to get involved is to work as teams to get work done,” Wolfson adds. “Organizations like Triangle Foundation do great work like talking to legislators, talking to the media, getting campaigns going and organizing demonstrations and events. We need people to do this kind of work. And we need to support the people who do it.”
Wolfson also stresses diversity in the messages being sent out by the community. “We all relate to different people and different situations,” he explains. “That is why we need to have as many different people sharing their experiences as possible so it’s not all coming from one view.”
“We can win in Michigan the same way we did in Iowa,” Wolfson claims, “by getting out and talking.”
Wolfson is the Executive Director of Freedom to Marry, a seasoned civil rights attorney and author of “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry.” For more information, go to http://www.freedomtomarry.org.
To purchase tickets for the Triangle Catalyst Awards, go to http://www.tri.org.
Triangle Catalyst Awards
6 p.m. Oct. 3
Hyatt Regency, 600 Town Center Drive, Dearborn