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Five Questions for Evan Wolfson

Published April 2, 2014 6:34 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Attorney Evan Wolfson has long been active in the battle for marriage equality. Evan is the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, which advocates for marriage equality. He is the author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry," published in 2004. And he was co-counsel in Baehr v. Miike, the case filed in 1991 by three same-sex couples in Hawaii challenging that state's bar on their right to marry; the couples eventually won, though the victory was later reversed. Brooke Adams asked Evan to share his perspective after two decades at the forefront of the movement.

Brooke: Twenty years ago, you successfully helped challenge one state's bar on the freedom to marry; 10 years ago you wrote about the campaign for marriage equality in "Why Marriage Matters." What surprises you about where the debate stands today?

Evan: I knew we would win the freedom to marry for gay people — so the progress in recent years doesn't surprise me. I've long believed the American people are compassionate and open-hearted, and believe in basic fairness, family, and equality under the law.

Brooke: You are very deliberate in your use of the term "freedom to marry." Why?

Evan: As former Vice President Dick Cheney said, freedom means freedom for everyone. That includes both the freedom to marry the person you love and the freedom to hold your own religious beliefs. Both are bedrock principles of our country and both can and, in fact, do co-exist quite well. We best protect religious freedom as well as personal freedom when we respect what the churches do and what government does.

Brooke: In two decades, has the argument on either side shifted at all? It seems like the same issues are raised today that were raised 20 years ago in the Hawaii case.

Evan: We have always said that marriage matters. What we've gotten better at is telling the stories of couples and families to demonstrate our common humanity and dreams. We also have decades more evidence, of personal examples, of lived experience, of conversations and people opening their hearts. Unfortunately, our opponents seemed locked in stereotypes and fear, and their phony science is being soundly rejected by courts, legislatures, and voters.

Brooke: Of all the reasons raised for limiting the freedom to marry — from promoting procreation to preventing societal harms — which is the most frustrating for you and why?

Evan: It's more painful than frustrating. What's painful is that this is not some abstract theoretical debate or faulty legal arguments, which are repeatedly and rightly failing. The exclusion from marriage, from families, from participation in society, is an assault on these loving couples and families who play by the rules, contribute to their communities, and simply want to be included and treated fairly under the law.

Brooke: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said recently that while he has a duty to defend Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, he may be open to discussing civil unions as an alternative. Are civil unions an acceptable alternative to marriage?

Evan: No. I don't know anyone who would trade their marriage for a civil union. Civil union is the words without the music — a separate legal status that provides some protections and responsibilities, but not the rich set of meanings, security, and dignity that come with marriage. Marriage is the language of love, commitment, self-sacrifice, and creates a commitment under law that is immediately understood without having to fumble for documents or a dictionary.

— Brooke Adams