THE BLOG

Marriage Equality, the GOP and the Fight to Protect the Constitution

06/25/2015 10:08 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

The Supreme Court's finding that there is a constitutional protection for same sex marriage is a final and wonderful culmination of so many efforts. First and foremost it is a testament to the shape shifting revolution of coming out. Hundreds of thousands of LGBT people born in every kind of family has no doubt been the number one factor in the country and our courts's attitudinal shift on this issue.

Much has and will continue to be written about the brilliant legal strategy envisioned by Evan Wolfson and executed so well in landmark cases by Mary Buonato and Robbie Kaplan. The legal work by so many in the community has been both strategic and groundbreaking.

And much will also be made of the key political, workplace and cultural work that the Human Rights Campaign and others like NGLTF and groups have done. Less well-known are the political victories which also helped to change public opinion. They are mostly forgotten because they were few are far between, and overshadowed by a crashing wave of successful anti-same sex marriage ballot measures in the states. But there were great political victories in the states along the way as well, in NY, in Washington, Maine, Minnesota and Maryland and some others.

But there was one political victory -- a hugely important play of defense -- that is one of the lynchpins to the Court's leeway this week in coming to their decision. And it was the first time there was a significant showing of GOP support for our side of the argument. Support which has proven critical in virtually every venue in which this issue has been discussed in the last several years.

It is hard to fathom that just 10 years ago, the president of the United States stood in the East Room and proposed legislation to write LGBT people out of the United States Constitution, but that is what President George Bush did on February 24, 2004. Again, the year was 2004 and a significant majority of the country still opposed marriage equality giving the Amendment a good chance of passage in Congress.

I remember it well. I led the campaign, headquartered at the Human Rights Campaign, of a broad coalition of LGBT activists. All of the leadership were at the table, Lambda, NGLTF, Freedom to Marry, ACLU, NCTE and others. Especially important was my partnership with Patrick Guerrero of Log Cabin Republicans. Together we met with Senators John McCain and John Sununu who were willing to break with Majority Leader Frist on the procedural vote and we convinced Democratic leaders Tom Daschle and Harry Reid that we could get enough Republicans to give the Democrats the cover they needed to stay united. The conservative argument was simple -- protect the Constitution. (They wanted to leave it to the States, which was fine with us since we knew our legal strategy was a state by state effort.) We enlisted key GOP voices outside of Congress like Rudy Guiliani and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (hard to remember when they had influence isn't it?!) and former Rep. Bob Barr to give the GOP Senators cover.

Ultimately six Republican Senators voted with us against President Bush's proposal for a final vote of 50-48. President Bush and his allies were unhappy about the Senate defeat and pushed for a House vote. We lost a majority of House members on the vote but kept it to under the two-thirds required for a Constitutional Amendment.

There will be lots of versions of history as to how the community was able to turn the tide on marriage equality. And everyone's versions will be mostly accurate because they will be writing from where they are sitting. So as a student of political history, the moment we got six Republican Senators (and 44 Democrats) to stand with us against their president to protect the Constitution in order to give the Supreme Court the freedom to ultimately conclude it contains our freedom, stands out at a key milestone. So far, no GOP Presidential candidate for 2016 has learned the value of looking forward on this key issue and showing leadership, but of course they should.