THE BLOG

The Unsung Heroes of the Marriage Equality Movement

07/01/2013 02:52 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Patrick Murphy MSNBC contributor, CAP Senior Fellow, Formerly 82d Airborne in Iraq & U.S. Congressman

Last week, in two historic decisions, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and cleared the way for California to become the 13th state to allow same-sex couples to marry. This was a day for the history books -- a tremendous victory for equality, for the country, and for the tens of thousands of LGBT men and women who serve in the United States military.

We all know the fight isn't over. Thirty-seven states still bar or don't recognize marriage equality. And in most states, LGBT Americans can be fired for their sexual orientation. Yet as we bask in these historic decisions, it's worth acknowledging some of the unsung patriots who carried the torch for the freedom to marry.

No list is exhaustive, but each of these great Americans helped pave the way for marriage equality to become law.

Unsung Heroes

1. By leading the charge to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Jeh Johnson, the former General Counsel at the Department of Defense, laid the groundwork for marriage equality by laying out how homophobic policies hurt both our service members and our national security.

2. Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan is one of the great heroes of the marriage equality movement. Charlie was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 2012, but even while going through the worst of times, Charlie and her wife Karen used their story to show Americans across the country how DOMA hurt LGBT servicemembers and their families. Due to DOMA, Charlie's wife and daughter were barred from receiving the Social Security and pension benefits routinely available to opposite-sex military couples. Charlie passed away earlier this year -- the rulings today are a testament to her courage and integrity.

3. The Millennial generation: America's newest generation has been the driving force behind the marriage equality movement's recent successes. Young Americans have skewed polls across the country, convinced their parents to vote the right way, and continued the work of their predecessors in fighting a more perfect union.

4. Through his continuous efforts to persuade the GOP to support marriage for LGBT Americans, Ken Melhman, the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, took the fight for marriage equality into territory long considered hostile.

5. As mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom -- a practicing Catholic -- brought national attention to the struggle for marriage equality in 2004 when he began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

LGBT Leaders:

1) Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry, worked on Baehr v. Miike, the 1993 case that launched the marriage equality movement and scared the U.S. Congress into passing DOMA. Author of Why Marriage Matters, Wolfson's legal theory has been a driving force within the marriage equality movement.

2) HRC President Chad Griffin formed the legal dream team of Ted Olson and David Boies that oversaw the litigation of Perry v. Hollingsworth.

3) Aubrey Sarvis and Allyson Robinson, two Army veterans, led OutServe-SLDN, a military LGBT-rights organization that filed an amicus brief signed by 44 generals and admirals in the constitutional challenge to DOMA.

4) Special shout outs to Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, led by Kevin Cathcart; the National Center for Lesbian Rights, led by Kate Kendell; the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, led by Rea Carey; the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, led by Chuck Wolfe, the National Center for Transgender Equality, led by Mara Keisling, and the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a joint effort led by Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAD, the ACLU and AFER.

Media Advocates

1) Rachel Maddow is one of the most widely respected members of the LGBT community. She, and individuals like Anderson Cooper, have utilized their public profiles to make the case for marriage equality to Americans from across the political spectrum and from every corner of the country.

2) There's no doubt that the daily battle for equality was amplified by the Netroots community. Special shout outs to Pam Spaulding, John Aravosis, Kerry Eleveld, and Chris Geidner.

3) In his capacity as an MSNBC news anchor, Thomas Roberts closely covered Charlie and Karen Morgan's case, drawing attention to how DOMA hurt our servicemembers and military families.

Citizen Champions

1) The plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, Kristen Perry and Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, have bravely lent their love stories to the fight for marriage equality.

2) Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, met her wife Thea Spyer in 1963 and the two remained in a loving and committed relationship for 42 years. Thanks to their efforts, the federal government can no longer discriminate against legally married Americans -- including same-sex couples.

3) The seven couples behind Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, the Massachusetts case that energized the marriage equality movement in 2003 when it established -- for the first time in history -- the right of same-sex couples to wed.

Legal Titans

1) Ted Olson and David Boies -- once opposing counsel in the litigation of Bush v. Gore -- joined forces as co-counsel in the challenge to the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8. These two high-profile appellate attorneys have brought bi-partisan credence and unmatched legal skill to the fight for marriage equality.

2) Similarly, Roberta Kaplan was the lead attorney in the successful challenge of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in US v. Windsor.

We owe these great Americans -- and many other allies -- our respect and admiration for their commitment to a more just and equal America.

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