On the Cusp of Greater Equality Photo by Compass Photographers

On the Cusp of Greater Equality

Summer 2015 Letter from the President

With the Supreme Court set to rule on marriage equality, president Ira Hirschfield reflects on the enormous progress that's been made, and the work still ahead.

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Read the update from Senior Director Matt Foreman, on the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling on marriage equality.

As we await a Supreme Court ruling that could bring marriage equality to the entire country, it is easy to forget how much has changed in such a short time.

At the dawn of the new century in 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a decisive 57 percent to 35 percent. The Defense of Marriage Act was the law of the land, gay service members were bound by the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to hide their sexual orientation, and none of the 50 states—not one—offered gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.

The transformation in our culture from then to now is stunning. Today, a record-high 63 percent of Americans support marriage equality. Same-sex couples are free to marry in 37 states that collectively are home to more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. And, both the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been cast into the dustbin of history.

What triggered all of these changes to happen in a relatively short period of time? The answer is that there were many causes, from the coming-out of numerous prominent and respected individuals in the media, entertainment and politics to the coming-of-age of a younger generation that is more accepting of gay and lesbian people. And we can’t forget the culture-shifting power of countless honest, heartfelt conversations on these issues—parent-to-child, friend-to-friend, colleague-to-colleague.

Together, all of these forces added up to increased acceptance, as well as a growing understanding that marriage for gay and lesbian people is as much about giving them the same opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other as it is about making sure that they and their families are treated equally under the law.

Of course, there was another critical force in the transformation we have seen over the last 14 years, and that is the people and organizations that have fought so hard to change public opinion and public policies on marriage at all levels. They filed legal cases, developed research-based messages and advertising to move the debate, educated the public, organized rallies and other events, and went door to door in communities across the country to carry the conversation to people in their homes.

The Haas, Jr. Fund’s first grant on this issue in 2001 was to a young attorney who was working for Lambda Legal Defense at the time. His name is Evan Wolfson, and he believed passionately that marriage was the critical next step for the movement for gay and lesbian equality. Evan used the Fund’s early grants to create Freedom to Marry, which has become the catalyzing organization for the marriage movement.

Over the last 14 years, the Fund has invested nearly $39 million in the fight for marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. (Find out more about what organizations and initiatives we have funded here.) We have worked alongside many other foundations that share a commitment to the cause of marriage equality—including the Bohnett, Calamus, Columbia, Ford, Gill, Horizons, Johnson Family and Overbrook foundations, together with the Open Society Institute and others.

Both through individual foundation grantmaking and collaborative funding endeavors such as the Civil Marriage Collaborative, founded in 2004, philanthropy has contributed $125 million to help drive the state-by-state strategy that has moved the nation to where we are today. And that’s just the total from foundations like those listed above. So-called “(c)4” funders—which are not limited in what they can spend on political activities—independently have supported the electoral and advocacy work that pushed many wins across the finish line.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules in the coming days, the United States has taken another important step toward becoming a more equal country because of the movement for marriage equality and the millions who have changed hearts and minds. On behalf of the trustees and staff of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, I want to express our enormous appreciation to those who have ignited this swift and momentous shift towards fairness, respect and love.