Hughes and Eldridge Engaged

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com January 14 2011 10:45 AM ET

The first high-profile fundraiser of the year for marriage equality provided the occasion Thursday for Freedom to Marry to step forward as the campaign to win marriage nationwide, with plans that include an expanded public education effort and a new presence in Washington, D.C.

Warmed by recent progress on an otherwise bitterly cold New York City evening, an overflow crowd packed into the downtown Manhattan home of Freedom to Marry political director Sean Eldridge and Facebook cofounder and Jumo founder Chris Hughes. The couple took the opportunity to announce their engagement.

Attendees contributed $250 and up to mingle with other guests brought together by honorary hosts including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Newark mayor Cory Booker, New York City council speaker Christine Quinn, Margaret Hoover, and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Cohosts included former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, David Mixner, Kate Clinton, and Urvashi Vaid, and many others.

Founded in 2003 by civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry is experiencing a growth period spurred by rapid legal, political, and social developments. This year, three states – Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island – appear on the cusp of passing marriage equality, and the right needs to be preserved in Iowa and New Hampshire, all while the federal case against Proposition 8 proceeds in California. And last year, for the first time, polls showed that a majority of Americans support marriage equality. Meanwhile, opposition groups like the antigay National Organization for Marriage continue to position for battle.

In brief remarks at the event, Mayor Booker, a bachelor at age 41, joked about pressure from his mother to get married, and stated his pledge not to officiate marriages until all couples can legally marry in New Jersey. An effort to pass marriage equality in the state failed last year. Meanwhile, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman and speaker Quinn expressed confidence that marriage equality would pass in the current session of the New York state legislature following a 2009 loss.

“Think of what New York not having marriage equality allows other states to do,” said Quinn. “They can say, ‘If New York doesn’t have it, why do we have to have it? Those crazy liberals in New York.’”

Wolfson, the executive director of Freedom to Marry, concluded the remarks session with a broad outline of his group’s plans based on its three-pronged Roadmap to Victory. The approach calls for winning marriage in more states, growing the majority support for marriage, and ending federal marriage discrimination in conjunction with partner organizations throughout the country in 2011 and beyond.

Based on 85 data sets from campaigns including work in Maine and California, Wolfson said, his group would soon unveil a new public education campaign, Why Marriage Matters, that aims to increase the majority percentage of Americans who support marriage equality from 52% to as high as 58% over the next three years. He said the campaign would ideally be bolstered by an initial $1.5 million national ad buy, followed by $3 to $10 million in ad buys.

“We believe we have cracked the code on the language, the messages, the messengers, and the time it will take to engage people and move them along and we want to put that campaign forward,” he said.

Wolfson also announced that Freedom to Marry would launch a presence in Washington, D.C., this year to lay groundwork with federal lawmakers, President Barack Obama, and the Supreme Court.

"There is going to be a focused, clear, sustained, spearheaded campaign to elevate that conversation about why marriage matters in Washington," he said. "Creating the climate, increasing the numbers in Congress, helping the president on his journey to marriage support – a journey he's on his way on and we’re going to get him there. And creating the climate that will enable the Supreme Court of the United States, including Justice Kennedy, to understand that history will vindicate them if they do the right thing should any of the federal litigation that’s now bubbling up around the country make it to the Supreme Court, and the clock is ticking on those cases."

Organizers said that more than 200 people attended the event, which raised over $100,000, surpassing the goal for the evening.