As part of the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival's theme of those citizens who have been newsmakers or cultural commentators, the event welcomed attorney, author, law professor and the Freedom to Marry President/founder Evan Wolfson Nov. 4 for a retrospective on his achievements as a driving force of marriage equality and his thoughts as to the next challenges facing the LGBTQ community.
"Gay people have wanted the freedom to marry as long as there has been a movement," Wolfson told nationally syndicated columnist and event moderator Steve Chapman. "Couples had gone to court and sought the freedom to marry in the immediate aftermath of Stonewall. But all of those courts rubber-stamped discrimination, threw these couples out of court and didn't give it the time of day. The country just wasn't ready, the courts weren't ready, the conversation hadn't happened."
More than 10 years later, as a law student in 1983, Wolfson wrote his first paper centered upon claiming the freedom to marry. "By fighting for [it] we would be claiming a vocabulary of love, commitment, family, connection and inclusion that would serve as an engine of transformation helping non-gay people better understand who gay people are in a way that would not only enable us to win the freedom to marry but advance us on all fronts.," he said.
Despite pushback from outside and within the LGBTQ community, Wolfson was defiant. "The idea that we were going to take an affirmative effort to change hearts and minds, solidifying our equality when we were under siege seemed like a dangerous thing to do," Wolfson recalled. "I had to persuade people that we could do this, that there was a pathway forward and it was worth doing."
On June 26, 2015, he was ultimately proven right when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
"I always believed we could win," Wolfson said, "I always believed that people could move and that the only way you could help them to move was to engage in the mantra going around the country all those years preaching, pushing, organizing and cajolingthat there is no marriage without engagement."
Looking forward, Wolfson said he believes it is just as important to engage people in securing federal non-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of life.
"We need that federal civil-rights protection, we need it to be explicit, we need it to come from Congress as well as from the courts," Wolfson said. "We also need non-discrimination measures in all states at the state and local level because those measures serve as building blocks to get to a federal law and they also provide protection, coverage and guidance that help not only punish discrimination but prevent it."
"We want young gay and transgender people to grow up safe and secure and free to dream," Wolfson asserted. "This is not just about the law, it is about engaging understanding."
For more information about the Chicago Humanities Festival, visit ChicagoHumanities.org .