January 23, 2009

Five Questions with Jordan Palmer

By: Michael Jones · January 23, 2009
Topics: Defense of Marriage Act · Marriage Equality

We're launching a new weekly series here at gayrights.change.org, where we'll ask five questions to a leader in the struggle for LGBT rights. Think of it as our version of Time Magazine's 10 Questions (only we won't be asking Hugh Hefner or T. Boone Pickens questions any time soon). First up in the hot seat is Jordan Palmer, a member of the Board of Directors for Marriage Equality USA and the founder of Kentucky Equal Rights (now known as the Kentucky Equality Federation). Palmer gives his take below on lessons learned from the passage of Proposition 8, what states he sees as next in line to recognize marriage equality, and why it's important that marriage equality activists come together during the upcoming National Freedom to Marry Day -- among other good stuff.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) is releasing three reports this month on the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S.. The first report was a look backward on the No on 8 campaign in California. What lessons were learned by marriage equality supporters in the defeat of the No on 8 campaign?

Concerned that California’s No on 8 campaign didn’t utilize the grassroots community to its potential and recognizing the harm associated with a campaign run by political consultants without sufficient accountability or transparency to the larger community, Marriage Equality USA organized community forums across California and received over 3,100 responses to our on-line survey to reflect the collective wisdom learned from the mistakes of this campaign. MEUSA's report entitled "We Will Never Go Back – Grassroots Input on California's No on Proposition 8 Campaign" identified many positive outcomes from the official No on 8 campaign, but also cited the following major concerns and future opportunities:

  • Clergy leaders, identified as the most effective messengers for marriage equality, were underutilized in the No on 8 campaign,
  • People of color are part of our LGBTI family and we must promote their leadership and inclusion to inform and direct outreach to these communities,
  • The official No on 8 campaign ads lacked heart and inexcusably excluded same-sex couples and their families,
  • The official No on 8 field plan lacked visibility and ignored potential volunteers,
  • The official No on 8 campaign abandoned our LGBTI community and supporters in the Central Valley, and
  • Empowering our grassroots community will help advance our national marriage equality movement.

Under each item of concern or future opportunity, we have also identified a Call to Action that allows us a way to move ahead in addressing these issues. For example, under the section related to the role of clergy, we have asked clergy leaders to take the opportunity of President-Elect Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren as the invocation speaker to share with their local congregations and/or communities, reasons why they believe marriage equality is important and begin the slow process of healing and outreach to continue the dialogue with persuadable people of faith.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: MEUSA is one of the lead organizations, along with Join the Impact, behind the February 12 "National Freedom to Marry Day," -- a day of action where same-sex couples request marriage licenses from clerks across the country. What's the story behind this day and what are the plans for this year's day of action?

Marriage Equality USA started the Marriage Counter Action/Get Engaged for Marriage Equality in 2001. This year, we invited Join the Impact to join us, and we are very excited to be working with them and look forward to a large turnout. We do this annual direct action during Freedom to Marry week to make marriage discrimination visible. It forces our local clerks to have to look us in the eye, see our children, and enforce a discriminatory and unjust law at their counter – it moves everyone who witnesses this sad, but powerful event and gives us the opportunity to tell our stories and show that we live in every community and want to honor and protect our families like everyone else.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: Does MEUSA ever get behind efforts to pass civil union legislation, or is the organization solely focused on marriage?

Marriage Equality USA does support civil unions and similar relationship protection legislation as a stepping-stone to marriage equality.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: What are the states you see as most likely to recognize marriage equality in 2009?

I’ll start with one that might surprise you.

On December 9, 2008, the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral argument on its marriage equality lawsuit. The lower trial court has determined that denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage is unconstitutional and we are hopeful that the State Supreme Court will confirm this ruling. We have a wonderful chapter in Iowa working hard to do the education and outreach work necessary to sustain a positive decision and make Iowa the first Midwestern State to recognize marriage equality.

In New York, where the state already recognizes marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state, has a strong chance at passing marriage equality legislation and the Governor is already on record as a firm supporter who will sign that bill into law.

It is very likely we will continue to see states in New England upgrade their separate and unequal system of civil unions into marriage equality – New Jersey is the furthest along the path in this regard, but efforts in Vermont, Rhode Island and other places are moving forward.

Of course, we are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will repeal Proposition 8. This court has already determined that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional. The courts must affirm their important role in protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority and stop efforts to put people’s civil rights up for a popular vote.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: What does the grassroots of MEUSA look like?

On a chapter level, local meetings, knocking on doors, local community organizing……that’s what it is about; this is one-on-one work to change the hearts and minds of your neighbors, family members, and friends. That is what it takes to bring real change to our entire republic. No one at Marriage Equality USA is paid, no staff. We need money to cover expenses, but I think the 2008 election setbacks in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida, have taught us that no amount of money can replace volunteering, grassroots organizing, and the perseverance of an all - volunteer organization. Yes, we have a tight organizational structure; we would not be able to function without it, but getting people involved as leaders in their local communities, that is our goal...you might even go so far as to call it a ‘dream.’

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: And one more bonus question -- What would you say it will take in order for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be repealed, and how close are we to seeing its repeal?

We must get out in our local communities, tell our stories, and mobilize. We must meet in person with our states elected Congressional delegations and educate them on marriage equality and the unfairness and impact that DOMA has on seniors, on children and on hardworking Americans. We need to create an environment so President Obama can deliver on his promise to repeal DOMA. It is up to us – what are we willing to do, how active will we be – it has less to do with our politicians and more to do with our community getting engaged and bringing this justice forward. This is a choose your own answer – to each reader – it is up to us. It is our generation’s obligation and opportunity to see this injustice righted in our lifetime. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us – the time is here, the time is now, history is calling us – will we answer the call? If you will enlist in the love warrior army – join us at www.marriageequality.org and help us make history together.

News Link: http://news.change.org/stories/five-questions-with-jordan-palmer-marriage-equality-usa
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