More than 75 plaintiff couples from marriage cases past and present gather in DC

On Monday, April 27, the eve of the United States Supreme Court's landmark oral argument in the legal case that could bring the freedom to marry to same-sex couples nationwide once and for all, same-sex couples who were plaintiffs in marriage cases from across the country and throughout history joined together in Washington, D.C. at the National Marriage Plaintiffs Gathering, organized by Freedom to Marry.

Plaintiffs from more than 55 marriage cases attended the event, representing 30 different states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

Freedom to Marry was proud to celebrate this historic gathering of plaintiffs alongside the many private attorneys and law firms - and our indispensable movement legal groups - the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights - who have brought the cases that built to the vicotry we hope shimmers within reach this year. A special thanks is also in order to Mark Ebenhoch, Aaron Huntsman & Lee Jones of Love is Love Key West (the campaign behind the Key West, Florida marriage case Huntsman v. Heavilin), who originated idea of the plaintiff gathering.

Plaintiffs Past & Present

The plaintiffs' cases dated back as far as the 1970s - Tony Sullivan, one of the very first marriage plaintiffs in Colorado's Adams v. Howerton, attended, as well as Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, plaintiffs in the 1990s Hawaii case, in which Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson and co-counsel Dan Foley celebrated the very first time a judge ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples (read more about the Hawaii fight here). Julie Goodridge, a named plaintiff in the Massachusetts case Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health that brought about the very first state where same-sex couples could say "I do," also joined us for the gathering, with her co-plaintiffs Edward Balmelli and Michael Horgan. 

The reception also brought together every plaintiff couple from this year's Supreme Court marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as many of their attorneys. The next day, the plaintiffs and their legal teams watched as the Supreme Court considered the freedom to marry and whether all states must treat same-sex couples and their families equally.

 

"The World is Watching"

Freedom to Marry was proud to welcome Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, for the event. "Working with us and for us every step of the way since the beginning of the Obama Administration has been an effective internal voice and champion for our cause, an unsung hero who has helped us get to where are today," Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said, introducing Jarrett. 

At the podium, Jarrett took the opportunity to thank all of the plaintiffs in the room for their work, saying, "I know that you have to put your lives on hold for something that's not just going to benefit you, but benefit so many other people, and so, on behalf of the millions of people around the country and around the world who your leadership symbolizes, thank you!"

She continued, "Tomorrow we will watch a historic moment, and that history would not be possible without all of you. In our country we should be able to love anyone we want. The world is watching. We all need equal opportunity in this country, and we are all in this together."

A Historic Movement

"Tonight, we are keeping the focus on being together, meeting each other, and celebrating the power of telling our stories, organizing, working, and showing the courage to stand up for ourselves and believe that others can rise to fairness," Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said in his brief remarks. "The plaintiffs here tonight and those who are here with us in spirit, and the advocates (private attorneys, pro bono counsel, law firms, and fighters) exemplify the millions who spoke up, shared stories, touched hearts, and changed minds - setting the stage for the victory we hope we will see in June.

In total, nearly 500 same-sex couples have been plaintiffs in legal cases seeking the freedom to marry since 1970, when Jack Baker and Mitchell McConnell first sought the freedom to marry in Minnesota. To commemorate this incredible history, Freedom to Marry, working with the wonderful teams at the ACLU, Lambda Legal, NCLR and GLAD, pulled together a list of ever marriage plaintiff we could track down and include in a poster that demonstrates the wide scope and many voices who have helped to bring the freedom to marry to same-sex couples nationwide (click the poster to enlargen).

A Chance to Celebrate

For the 100+ plaintiffs who gathered together for the event, the night was a chance to celebrate the strides we have taken together as a movement seeking the freedom to marry. 

"Everyone here played a part," Stuart Gaffney, a plaintiff in the California case In Re Marriage Cases, said. "It's a jigsaw puzzle of America coming together."

"It's amazing to be in a room full of people who've been working on this for so long," North Dakota marriage plaintiff Celeste Carlson-Allebach added.

"This is a uniquely joyful occasion," said Steven Stolen alongside his husband Rob MacPherson. "How often do you get to go to an event like this?"

And for Derek Penton-Robicheaux, who is a plaintiff in the Louisiana case Robicheaux v. Caldwell with hus husband Jon, the event was an opportunity to finally meet so many of the fellow plaintiffs he has read so much about. "Most of us are friends on Facebook, but this event tore down the digital walls," he said. 

Check out all of the photos from the great event here.

Photos by © Judy G. Rolfe and Jamie McGonnigal