Marc Solomon's phone is dying.
In the 20 minutes or so that his battery has left, over a scratchy connection, he's trying to sum up his decade-long fight to legalize same-sex marriage. There are plenty of intriguing details he could delve into — in fact, his book on the issue, Winning Marriage, is due from University Press of New England in November. But for now, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry tries to sum up the challenge: "We needed to talk to Americans about something that is very important to them — marriage — and something most people didn't feel very comfortable with: gay people."
The campaign for marriage equality was successful, he says, because that talk took place on local and national levels, and because it had a very human component to it: After a while, most people simply realized that they knew someone who was gay.
For Solomon, the conversation began with a successful campaign in Massachusetts, back when bake sales were considered an effective way to raise money for the cause. In 2004, following a court decision, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. A decade later, on Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review rulings that legalized gay marriage in five states. The decision means that the unions will likely soon be legal in 30 states.
Colorado was quick to react and to legalize same-sex marriage. As a result, Solomon says, Freedom to Marry will soon be shutting down its Colorado operation and focusing its efforts on states that still ban it. He expects same-sex marriage to be legal countrywide within a few years. At that point, Freedom to Marry will simply dissolve.
"We're all ready to be worked out of a job," he says.
Wendy Howell, spokesperson and lone staff member of Why Marriage Matters, a Colorado coalition formed in the spring by state chapters of Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union and advocacy organization One Colorado, says she'll soon be closing up shop. And she's happy to be doing so.
"It's pretty exciting and a little bit unexpected," she says.
But while groups aimed specifically at legalizing same-sex marriage are going away, other LGBT advocacy groups say there's work yet to be done in Colorado.
Before same-sex Colorado couples got the right to marry, the state legislature gave them the right to civil unions, in May 2013. It was one of many signs of progress for LGBT Coloradans in recent years.
In 2007, Colorado's Employment Nondiscrimination Act was expanded to add sexual orientation and transgender status. That same year, unmarried couples (including same-sex couples) were given the right to adopt one another's children.
In 2008, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act added protections for LGBT people in public accommodations and housing. Colorado also became the first state in the nation to convict a killer of a bias-motivated crime for the murder of a transgender woman, Angie Zapata. In April 2013, the Colorado Division of Insurance released a bulletin stating that health insurance plans can't discriminate based on sexual orientation or transgender status.
States such as Colorado are now so progressive on LGBT issues that big advocacy organizations may be spending less time and money here in the future. The New York Times recently reported that many advocacy groups now want to focus on "hostile territory, especially the Deep South," where many gays and lesbians still feel uncomfortable being "out" at work. Other advocates, including Solomon, want emphasis placed on passing major federal laws, including one to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
Yet Shawna Rae Kemppainen, executive director of Urban Peak Colorado Springs, says her nonprofit shelter is still flooded with homeless LGBT youths, many of whom have experienced discrimination in their families and at school. Kemppainen says she'd like to see the local movement delve more into poverty, health care and bullying. Ideally, she says, elementary school children would be getting training in accepting differences, even if it's worked into a normal school day.
"As [a teacher is] doing a math problem, instead of 'Jim and Jane are the parents of Susie,' [she could] say, 'Jim and Dan are the parents of Susie,'" Kemppainen says, "to sort of normalize that there are different sorts of families, and as long as there's love and consent, it's OK."
"Marriage always got the headlines because there was a coalesced opposition to marriage," says Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado, "but I don't think that marriage is the most important issue in the movement."
Montez says One Colorado now wants to host community meetings on immigration and youth homelessness, and to look for solutions that might involve legislation or education campaigns. He says he hopes they'll serve as bridges between those who supported gay marriage and those who didn't.
He also wants to work to change laws that hurt transgender Coloradans — easing the process of changing the sex on a birth certificate, for instance — and to reach out to rural areas where LGBT people are often still closeted for fear of losing their jobs or being shunned by their communities.
"This victory does not give us the luxury of being complacent," he says. "In fact, it provides the imperative for us to move forward."
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