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Op-ed: What Thursday's DOMA Vote Means

Op-ed: What Thursday's DOMA Vote Means


Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee vote to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was an important milestone.

But perhaps even more telling about how far we've come was what didn't happen during the "mark-up." Not one amendment was offered to try to gut the bill or embarrass supporters.

Freedom to Marry worked with our coalition partners and Judiciary Committee staff to prepare for a myriad of ugly amendments. Yet opposing senators told the committee they were going to offer three amendments, and only one directly related to this bill. And then yesterday morning, they chose not to even offer that.

My theory: Anti-equality lawmakers (unfortunately on this committee, it's the full slate of Republicans) know that increasingly, it's unwise and risky to use gay folks, and the freedom to marry, as a political wedge to score points. So they ducked. By contrast, the pro-equality committee Democrats all showed up in person to offer statements, to vote, and to publicize their support. Opponents of the freedom to marry are running away from their opposition, and supporters are highlighting their support.

We have come a long way in a very short time!

Earlier this year, George W. Bush's lead pollster, Jan Van Lohuizen, and Barack Obama's lead pollster, Joel Benenson, jointly analyzed polling trends on marriage equality over the past 15 years, which now show solid majority support nationwide. In a nutshell, what it says to electeds: If you are a Democrat, you should support the freedom to marry and highlight that support. And if you are a Republican, you should look carefully at your district and think carefully about your position and about how you talk about marriage and gays, particularly if you intend to have a long career in public office.

According to the analysis, support for marriage equality is growing at historically dramatic rates (5% growth per year for each of the past two years, after more than a decade of growing at 1%). This growth in support in part reflects demographic trends, where 70% of voters 18 to 34 are in support. Yet it also reflects growth in support among every grouping the pollsters analyzed: seniors, Republicans, Independents, Catholics, and more. People across the board are reconsidering their position on marriage. What's more, we've matched and will soon surpass our opponents on "intensity" -- that is, those who feel strongly about their support will soon exceed those strongly opposed.

Now our job as a movement is to spread the word and make sure that electeds, political operatives, the DC press corps, and others both inside the beltway and beyond stop acting like it's 1996 and get with the American majority for marriage.

One approach Freedom to Marry is taking: hosting salons in DC to engage opinion leaders and politicos. We've held one with GOP operatives hosted by Rich Galen, formerly press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich, and another with third party, right-of-center group leaders hosted by Nicole Neily, the executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, and with Republican political commentator Margaret Hoover as a special guest. Next week, we're hosting one for Democratic operatives hosted by political commentator and strategist Cornell Belcher. And in December, Hilary Rosen is hosting a salon with the DC media corps.

Our goal in all of this: to build the political and moral case for supporting marriage, to make sure that Washington insiders know how far the country has come, and to create the most favorable environment for Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court to do the right thing -- knowing the clock may be ticking as crucial cases make their way through the federal courts.

We still have a way to go to get DOMA repealed in Congress, and we know that very little seems to be happening this Congress. However, we also know that the American people are now with us. It's our job to make sure that lawmakers and judges are listening.

Marc Solomon serves as National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry.

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