Earlier this year, we announced the renewal of SKYY Vodka’s Toast To Marriage partnership with Freedom to Marry. With June being Pride Month, we are honoring LGBT bartenders from across the US and recently spoke to Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director and author of the book Winning Marriage, about how Toast to Marriage is helping to change attitudes and foster political activism across the US.
In just 12 years, Freedom to Marry has helped the US go from 0 to 37 states with marriage equality laws, and increased popular support from 35% to over 60% nationwide. This month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in a landmark case on the issue.
With this backdrop, we asked Marc about what compelled him to write his book, how his team works to change attitudes in even the toughest of climates, and what he is proudest of achieving with Freedom to Marry to date. Here’s what he had to say:
Over the past few years, a number of high profile corporations have publicly joined the fight for marriage equality. What does it mean for Freedom to Marry to partner with a brand like SKYY Vodka in this environment?
We know that businesses wield a lot of influence in American politics and in the day-to-day lives of all of us. Partnering with a brand like SKYY Vodka allows us to reach new supporters and potential supporters, especially those who are not typically engaged in political activism. With a combination of events, social media, digital support and influencer outreach, Freedom to Marry and SKYY have been able to advocate for positive change while creating a platform that enables individuals to do the same.
The United States has traditionally been divided over the topic of gay marriage. How do you work to change attitudes on this topic?
The core of our work has been about sharing our stories and demonstrating our common humanity. Americans need to understand why same-sex couples want to marry. As they’ve gotten to know gay and lesbian couples, they’ve learned that they want to marry for the same reasons as anyone else–out of deep love and commitment and desire to stand before family and friends and honor that commitment through marriage. We’ve recognized that plenty of good people have been conflicted on the issue and we’ve respected people’s thought process, even as we’ve worked hard to help people walk through their internal conflict and come out on our side. We’ve enlisted spokespeople with different kinds of appeal–parents and children of same-sex couples, Republicans, military service people, clergy, and more. In meeting people where they are and sharing our stories, we’ve been able to demonstrate that support for marriage for gay couples syncs up with most people’s deepest values, of treating others the way they want to be treated.
Conversely, in areas where there is a lot of marriage equality support, how do you work with the community to channel that positive energy into tangible actions and make sure the issue stays top of mind?
In areas where there is a lot of support for the freedom to marry we’ve had to remind folks that the job is not done until marriage is won nationwide. Although now a majority of states have the freedom to marry, everyone is still subject to the harmful patchwork of marriage laws when they are traveling across state lines in states that still discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. We’ve asked people to have conversations with family members and others in their lives who aren’t supportive, and keep making the case that we’re one country with one constitution and we need national resolution.
How has partnering with SKYY helped you to achieve your goals in both types of places?
Through our partnership with SKYY Vodka and the ‘Toast to Marriage’ campaign, Freedom to Marry has been able to continue sparking conversations in both states where marriage discrimination persists and where marriage has been won, highlighting the unfairness of denial and propelling us towards victory for the freedom to marry nationwide.
What are you most proud of achieving to date with Freedom to Marry? Is there one victory or milestone that stands out?
I’m proud of so many of our victories, but I’m proudest of the fact that at Freedom to Marry, we created a campaign war room made up of some of the most talented strategists and organizers around. Together, we figured out how to build smart, winning campaigns tailored to whatever challenge was before us. Whether we needed to win a new state through the legislature, at the ballot or in court; put friendly pressure on the president to come our way; win over Republicans or Democrats; or enlist clergy or corporations, we developed the internal know-how to put together campaigns to do so. We became a lean, mean fighting machine that no one wanted to do battle with because we knew how to win.
Wars of public opinion are increasingly fought online. How has the rise of social media affected the way you run your campaigns?
We view our digital properties as some of the most powerful tools we have, and we consistently enlist our supporter base to help make the case, whether by sharing a poignant video or graphic, contacting their lawmaker, or creating their own content that we promote. Through our Digital Action Center, we support the digital needs of state marriage campaigns throughout the country. In a matter of seconds, we can reach hundreds of thousands of supporters through multiple platforms, and as a result we’re the go-to resource for many advocates, journalists and the public at large.
The impending Supreme Court decision will obviously be a major watershed moment for Freedom to Marry, but either way, the cultural battle will be far from over. What are some ways that FTM will continue to contribute to the LGBT community after the decision is made?
Our movement must harness the momentum from the marriage conversation to the work of securing additional advances towards equality, especially nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. It’s unacceptable that hardworking LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied service in restaurants and shops simply for being who they are. Freedom to Marry is committed to ensuring that everything we’ve learned, and the assets that we’ve developed, are put to use to continue to secure victories for the LGBT community. We’ve already put our Digital Action Center to work to support state efforts to secure non-discrimination laws.
At the same time, Freedom to Marry was set up as a campaign to win marriage nationwide. Some time after that job is complete and the win solidified, Freedom to Marry will close its doors even as the work of the movement continues.
Your book Winning Marriage has received much acclaim. Would you speak to us about what led you to write it and what one key message you’d like most for people to take from it?
There are two main reasons I wrote Winning Marriage:
First, I wanted to show in some granularity how we’ve gone about building power and winning, in state houses, at the the ballot, in the White House, in courtrooms, and in the court of public opinion. When the book begins, in 2003, we had no states with marriage and support was only in the mid-30s nationwide. Today, we have 37 states, a supermajority of 60 percent-plus support nationwide, and are on the cusp of a national victory (knock on wood!). How we’ve created a movement and won in the face of powerful opposition and many skeptics is what I wanted to show.
Secondly, I wanted to share what we’ve learned to help other social movements prevail. Through much trial and error, we’ve learned a great deal about how to make real progress in America today. In this era of stagnation and political gridlock, I want to help others who are focused on changing hearts, minds and laws on other crucial causes.
The key message I’d like people to take from Winning Marriage is that very little is impossible or inevitable. With vision, relentless determination, strategy, and focus, we can still make great things happen in America and bring the country closer to its promise of equal justice under the law for everyone.