Interview with Marc Solomon '85

On November 25, 2014, Ryann Galloway Tacha sat down with Marc Solomon '85 to discuss his book, "Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits--and Won." 

In the interview, Marc discusses an infamous Doc Brayman assignment and what it is like to be on the front lines of creating social change presently in America.

Ryann Galloway Tacha:
How did you first become engaged in advocating for equal marriage?

Marc Solomon: I was in graduate school in Boston attending the Kennedy School of Government and it was when a lawsuit was filed for marriage in Massachusetts. Seven same-sex couples went to their town clerks to obtain marriage licenses. They were denied and with the help of a legal group in Massachusetts filed a lawsuit. I had worked on Capital Hill and been very involved in political work for my whole life. I began volunteering with a small grassroots group that was working for marriage equality in Massachusetts.  We went to all sorts of different speakers bureaus, fairs and events and started making the case for marriage equality. The turning point came in 2003 when a court in Massachusetts ruled in favor of marriage for gay couples for the first time in American history.  Right after that decision, there was incredible opposition. At that point, I was finishing up graduate school and I went to work full time to protect the decision from a constitutional amendment. We had the Catholic hierarchy, President George W. Bush, Gov. Romney, republicans and mainstream democrats who were against us. It’s shocking to many people that someone like John Kerry came out against marriage equality and supported a constitutional amendment to take it away. Because of all of this we had a huge mountain to climb; we had to stop constitutional amendment in Massachusetts.  I led the campaign eventually in Massachusetts to secure enough votes in the legislature to beat back a Constitutional Amendment and I’ve been at it ever since. I’ve worked in many states and worked to push the White House and the President, and to shift power our way, and to grow public support.

RGT: Kansas has very recently made gay marriage legal. Do you have a prediction on the next few states that you believe will follow suit?**

MS: Missouri is getting there. You can get married in Jackson County and in St. Louis and St. Louis County. I think what’s going to happen is that the Supreme Court will take up a case that will resolve the issue for the rest of the country. Currently there is marriage equality in 35 states which is two thirds of the country, but there is still one-third of the country where gay couples can’t marry. There are now five pending cases before the United States Supreme Court. Our hope and the work we are doing is to encourage them to take up a case and resolve it nationwide. So if things go the way we hope they will by June 2015, we will have the job done.

**Please see note at close of the interview.

RGT: So when that happens, what will you do next?

MS: I will take a long vacation!  One of the things that’s been very cool about the work and the successes that we’ve had is that now other social movements turn to me and my colleagues and ask for guidance.  I’ve talked to people who are working on economic inequality issues and environmental issues. I will probably take on another cause that I care about, possibly another issue related to LGBT equality. The issue that I am most focused on is how we are going the wrong way on opportunity for Americans and this myth that all Americans have a “fair shake” and are upwardly mobile. I believe we need to do something about that. That could be the next gig. We’ll see. I want a vacation first...

RGT: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

MS: It’s meeting same-sex couples who are older and have been together for 50 plus years. There was recently a lesbian couple in Iowa who just got married and they had been together for more than 70 years and they’d never said the word ‘lesbian’.  They were in their 90s. It’s hearing the stories of how people live through so much oppression and discrimination and how their relationship and their love persisted.  I remember a couple shared their story of marching in the first LGBT pride parades in Boston.  They marched with some of their friends who were teachers who wore paper bags over their heads because they would have been fired from their jobs if it got back to their school that they were gay. People would throw things at them during the parade and instead of the police trying to protect the protesters, they encouraged their opponents.  Seeing those couples who never thought they would be able to legally get married. That is what makes all of this so worthwhile.

RGT: What is the most challenging part of your work?

MS: The most challenging part is that there were a lot of losses. When I was running the Massachusetts campaign, Massachusetts was the only state where gay couples could marry from 2004 to 2008. We were really on our own and it was an uphill battle to build some momentum and I felt that if we lost in Massachusetts that we would never get [the right] again. It was very stressful, challenging and difficult.

RGT: So here we sit in 2014 and in 2003 you won the right in Massachusetts, do you believe that things have moved very quickly over the last 11 years or do you feel they have moved at a moderate pace? Would you have predicted this kind of outcome?

MS: So I would not have predicted it in the way it’s gone. It was very slow for a period of years and then we hit a point when we had enough public support which translated into enough political support which in turn meant that we began winning. Wins begat wins.  We had to show who gay people are, who gay couples are. Most Americans were conflicted on this issue. Gay people wanted to get married for the same reasons straight couples wanted to get married and that is a deep abiding love and commitment, and the want to take care of one’s family. 

RGT: If someone only had 30 minutes to spend with your book, what section would you tell them to read?

MS: I would tell them to read the part about the first win in Massachusetts, both how intense the opposition was and how we mobilized same-sex couples to share their stories. We asked them to step outside their comfort zones: to sit down with their lawmakers and invite them into their homes-which is not a normal thing to do. Same-sex couples wanted this right so badly that they were willing to put themselves out there. I think it’s very important for people to see that citizens really do have the ability to build political power.

RGT: Do you feel that Barstow prepared you for life after Barstow?

MS: I feel Barstow prepared me very well for college. I went to Yale undergrad and I was nervous that other students would be more prepared than I. I was happy to realize that I really knew how to write.  Also I made some great friendships at Barstow.  They are [alumni] who are interested in what I am doing now and have been incredibly supportive. It was a wonderful feeling to look around the room at the book event here in Kansas City and see so many folks from the Barstow community.

RGT: I’m not surprised that you mention your ability to write incredibly well as a result of your Barstow education. I talk to alumni often and no matter whether it’s an alumna from the 50s or graduate from the 70s or 90s- writing is always at the top of the list.

MS: I believe it’s the small class size and the fact that teachers give individualized attention. It’s not as if the teachers just give a grade on the paper; they would go through line by line and really help you.  By the time I graduated, I definitely had a really good grasp on how to write an argumentative paper for english. I’m sure people still talk about the infamous project we did with Doc Brayman where you chose either the Truman Library or the Eisenhower Library. That was such an amazing experience. Doc would go through and check every single footnote on everyone’s paper and not just look at them to see if they were formatted correctly, but he would go to the actual sources and check your work.  I chose the Eisenhower Library. We went and read the original papers and the archivists, of course, knew Doc. It was serious rigor.  Actually I didn’t write anything that rigorous again until my senior year of college.

Marc Solomon '85 is the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry and is one of the foremost experts on marriage equality in the United States. Marc has recently published Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits--and Won.

**The United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. In a 5 to 4 ruling, the Court determined that the Constitution guarantees every American the right to marriage.

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