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Pushing marriage equality into new frontiers

I love the idea behind this.

Less than two weeks after a federal judge declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, a new effort has been launched in the South seeking to build wider acceptance of gay and lesbian couples in the hope of overturning similar bans across the region.

The $1 million effort will be focused on field organizing and sharing the stories of gay couples through local community and business events as well as social media in 14 Southern states.

The key, supporters say, will be to share stories like those of Linda Ellis and her partner, Lesley Brogan, who appeared at Monday’s event. The two have been together since 1988 and are raising their sons John, 15, and Sam, 12, in Decatur, Ga.

“They will tell you we are just like any other old married couple,” Ellis said. “They will tell you that, and it’s not true. Not yet. And we’re ready for it to be.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was among those kicking off the “Southerners for the Freedom to Marry” campaign Monday, saying he believes gay marriage supporters are on the “right side of history.”

“This is about a trajectory. This is about the fact that marriage equality is on an irreversible path toward being legalized across the United States of America,” said Reed, who spoke of his initial reluctance to move from civil unions to supporting gay marriage based on religious reasons.

“And some folks have to decide, just like I did, where they want to be on a historical issue,” said Reed. “I was wrong, and I changed my opinion.”

Texas is one of the states in which this push is occurring. The announcement for this effort came out before Wednesday’s historic ruling, but just because a judge has spoken doesn’t mean that a campaign of outreach and persuasion isn’t still needed, because it is. The co-chairs and public faces of the effort here are Rep. Joaquin Castro and media/political strategist Mark McKinnon, who advised the George W. Bush and John McCain campaigns. Here’s the press release on this from Freedom to Marry, the driving force behind the whole thing:

Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide, today launched a $1 million multi-state campaign to build majority support for marriage in the South. The new effort, called Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, will include significant field and media work over the next year in partnership with supportive organizations across the region. Bipartisan co-chairs include civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who kicked off the campaign in a web ad; U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA); and George W. Bush advisor Mark McKinnon from Texas.

“Our investment in the South comes at a pivotal time in the marriage movement,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “The South is home to hundreds of thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples – and to a majority of the nearly 50 federal marriage cases now underway in courts across the country. Our new campaign will give voice to the many in the region now ready to move forward, including clergy, business leaders, conservatives, and family members, to show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Despite growing support in the South, Southern states continue to discriminate against the more than 200,000 couples and their families who make the region their home. According to 2010 Census Bureau data, same-sex couples raising children are more common in the South than in any other region of the country. A recent poll of registered Southern voters showed that support for the freedom to marry in the region is now evenly split.

In the kick-off ad, Rep. Lewis shares his private photos of his heroic civil rights leadership, and passionately declares, “You cannot have rights for one segment of the population – for one group of people – and not for everybody. Civil rights and equal rights must be for all of God’s children.”

The Southerners for the Freedom to Marry campaign launched with 13 honorary co-chairs:

• Alabama: State Representative Patricia Todd (D)
• Arkansas: TV producers Harry Thomason & Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan (D)
• Florida: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
• Georgia: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D), Rep. John Lewis (D)
• Mississippi: Lance Bass, musician and author
• North Carolina: Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt (D)
• South Carolina: Rep. James Clyburn (D)
• Texas: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D); Mark McKinnon, chief media advisor to President George W. Bush
• Virginia: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D)

“As a conservative, I don’t believe you or I or the government can tell people who they can love or marry,” said McKinnon. “Freedom means freedom for everyone, not just for some. That’s why I’m a southerner for the freedom to marry. And the political reality is that the marriage wedge has lost its edge. This train has left the station and we all need to get onboard.”

Southerners for the Freedom to Marry is led in partnership between Freedom to Marry and the following: the Equality Federation, the Campaign for Southern Equality, Georgia Equality, Equality Alabama, Equality Florida, Equality Louisiana, Equality Texas, Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina, South Carolina Equality, the Equality Network of Oklahoma, and the Fairness Campaign of Kentucky.

They have more on the co-chairs here, a video of civil rights hero US Rep. John Lewis discussing marriage equality here, and more on the campaign kickoff and the people involved here. I wish them all the best of luck.

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