The night was cool and clear, the vista of the city of Los Angeles was dazzling from the Hollywood Hills home of Adam Press – a point LA City Council President Eric Garcetti noted repeatedly as he teased and saluted his close friend Marc Solomon at a stellar gathering Wednesday night, April 6, to bid Solomon farewell. The former director of the Marriage Project at Equality California and the former executive director of MassEquality where he lead the fight to defend marriage equality in Massachusetts, has joined Freedom to Marry as the national group’s new National Campaign Director. Garcetti met Solomon in 1999 when they were named by the Rockefeller Foundation as two of 24 Next Generation of Leaders and spent a year working together as part of the fellowship. Garcetti told how Solomon flew to California to do “whatever it took” to help Garcetti win his city council election. In turn, Solomon spent much of the evening urging party-goers to support Garcetti’s all-but-announced run for LA City mayor.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was equally effusive, distinguishing Solomon from other national leaders with huge egos. “We’d talk about boys” and not about writing checks, Black said, when he’d run into Solomon at the Coffee Bean while Black was writing. “I’d never get any work done.” Black, who is on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is sponsoring the Perry v Brown federal case against Prop 8, lauded Solomon’s charisma and intelligence, telling Solomon that “Freedom to Marry will excel under your new leadership.”
Garcetti, who served as emcee for the program, told how Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson has “dedicated his life to the cause” of marriage equality, which was “a very lonely place for a very long time.” Wolfson, who was called a “prophet” and “visionary” throughout the evening, explained the organization’s “Roadmap to Victory,” which, drawing on social movements from the past, means persuading either Congress or the US Supreme Court to end marriage discrimination. That requires building a critical mass of states. The way to achieve critical mass is to 1) win marriage in more states; 2) grow and solidify a majority of support, which in turn leads to action and emboldening elected officials; 3) end federal marriage discrimination by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is why Freedom to Marry has increased its presence in Washington DC.
Part of the strategy also relies on having one-on-one conversations and listening to what people actually say, combined with new technology – a practice Solomon used to successfully save marriage equality in Massachusetts when faced with a possible constitutional convention to repeal marriage equality there. In his remarks, Solomon revealed that he came to California two weeks before the 2008 election at the request of his friend Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Gill Action Fund, who had taken over running the No on Prop 8 campaign. Solomon said Guerriero told him, “We need you. Things are tough.” When Prop 8 passed, Solomon said he looked at the Rainbow Flag flying at half mast in the Castro District and knew he had to come to California to help win back marriage rights.
Solomon named a number of younger activists who “inspired” him – including Mike Ai (co-founder of the post-Prop 8 Equal Roots Coalition and EQCA field organizer) and Susie Jack (LGBT liaison in LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office) and Luis Lopez (founding member of HONOR PAC and candidate for the California Assembly from the 45th District). Indeed, Solomon’s ability to listen and then process what he heard was a significant reason he won over so many angry activists in the post-Prop 8 environment.
Solomon called Wolfson his “mentor” since he “realized this is the work I wanted to do.” He, too, talked about the “tested” approach of telling personal stories and having those “tough conversations” to show how committed, loving same sex couples want to be part of the American Dream. “We also need to win elected officials,” showing them that vision and leadership supporting equality “play politically” as “not just a moral vote but a smart political strategy.” Solomon saluted philanthropist Tim Gill for his foresight in “advancing LGBT equality” through political strategy. He also acknowledged Geoff Kors, former executive director of Equality California, who helped make the California Legislature “the most progressive equality Legislature” in the country, and Chad Griffin, who founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights and “hired” Ted Olson and David Boises to fight Prop 8 in federal court.
Speaking of Prop 8 – since EQCA recently announced they will hold town halls and released a survey asking Californians to weigh in on whether a repeal of Prop 8 should be placed on the ballot in 2012 – during an economic crisis in the state and with President Obama’s re-election campaign apparently gearing up to raise $1 billion in campaign funds – I asked some folks randomly what they thought. Generally, the first response was “Yes” – followed by a beat and a qualification – if multiple polls and the ability to raise the required amount of money is in place.
Lance Black said Chad Griffin was AFER’s strategy man but offered that he hoped there would be no need to go back to the polls. He noted that the California Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the question of standing in the Perry case (on Monday, April 4, AFER filed a brief with the California Supreme Court on the question on standing for Prop 8 proponents) in September and has up to 90 days after that to issue its opinion. Black noted that the 9th Circuit, which has already heard arguments, has expedited the case “so I expect them to make a decision quickly.”
Marc Solomon said the question of returning to the ballot is “super complicated” and, given his new national position, prefers to “let folks on the ground figure it out.” In 2009, Solomon wrote a memo about “next steps” post-Prop 8 and later wrote a well-researched report on why the LGBT community should not return to the ballot in 2010 but consider 2012 instead.
Tim Gill and his husband of two years, Scott Miller, said that while “all options are open,” returning to the ballot with another initiative requires that people “look at what the polls say [regarding support for marriage equality and repealing Prop 8] and the ability to raise the funds.” Gill said it would be “really silly” to begin the process without those considerations.
Ron Buckmire of the Jordan/Rustin Coalition, referred to the Prepare to Prevail report that Jordan/Rustin and other people of color organizations released saying teh community should go back only after multiple polls showed over 55% support, there was at least one million dollars in the bank, and that a “credible plan” and structure for the entity that would run the campaign had to be in place first before he could endorse going forward. Additionally, he noted, such requirements would have to be in place by this October.
Jenny Pizer, who just left Lambda Legal to become Legal Director at the Williams Institute, said, “I don’t see how it’s practical,” given the impending developments in the Perry case. Pizer also noted that “it would be impossible to raise the money that would be required.” LGBT ally Karin Wang from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (and an KCET “Local Hero”) simply said, “Ditto.” Attorney Doreena Wong, Pizer’s wife, just joined the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Stephen Macias, senior executive with Here Media, said “the money is there, should the decision be made to return to the ballot.” A self-described “optimist,” he said that “telling our stories is a key part” of any strategy, whether the ballot, the legislature or the courts. But he also noted that his mother asked him why there is no outreach in Spanish. “People think you have the same as we do,” Macias said his mother told him.
Paul Colichman, co-founder of Here Media, said he could honestly and “forcefully” argue bot sides. “There are good reasons for either position,” he said.
Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson, however, stressed that whatever the ultimate decision, the community should still use the time to “bring more people to the polls” and “create a climate” for victory. “Let’s not spend a whole year debating – but instead do the groundwork and create benchmarks of progress in public support and organizing that enables us to decide whether to go or not,” Wolfson said.
More photos from the farewell party: