Freedom to Marry formally launched a campaign Jan. 20 that includes 80 mayors from across the country who have pledged to advance the cause of marriage for same-sex couples.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, unveiled "Mayors for the Freedom to Marry" at a press conference at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the campaign alongside Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; New York City Michael Bloomberg; Houston Mayor Annise Parker; San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders; Boston Mayor Thomas Menino; Santa Barbara, Calif., Mayor Helene Schneider and Gainesville, Fla., Mayor Craig Lowe, among others.
"Each of these mayors has committed himself or herself to the cause and to working with Freedom to Marry to ensure that loving and committed same-sex couples throughout America can marry the person they love and avail themselves of the crucial protections that their families need that only come along with marriage," said Solomon.
Villaraigosa, who chairs the campaign as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, spoke about growing up without a father as he highlighted the importance of family. He said the lack of marriage equality for same-sex couples has directly impacted members of his own family.
"I've seen the many faces of those hurt by DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8 in California," said Villaraigosa. "They are members of my own family. They're our nation's own children who face daily bullying and violence because of who they are or who people think they are. They're the couples the joyous marriages I've had the honor of presiding over, whose special day was shared by friends and families before their rights were stripped away."
Parker spoke about the difficulties that she and her partner of nearly 21 years faced when they adopted their three children. A series of insurance, custodial and educational challenges followed suit.
"One simple thing would have made a tremendous difference in the lives of my family and truly the lives of millions of Americans, and that is access to the rights and privileges of marriage," said Parker.
A Gallup poll in May found that 53 percent of U.S. residents now support marriage for gays and lesbians, but marriage-equality proponents stress that nuptials for same-sex couples also benefits the economy.
In a study released before New York's marriage-equality law took effect in July, the Williams Institute estimated that nuptials for gays and lesbians could pump up to $102 million into the state's languishing economy. Bloomberg noted this economic windfall as he pointed out that 700 same-sex couples get married each month at New York City Clerk's offices across the five boroughs.
"Every wedding is a celebration that generates money for our restaurants, banquet halls, caterers and other small businesses," he said. "With many couples and guests traveling to New York City from other states and countries, our hotels and tourist attractions benefit as well."
Marriage-equality measures that has been recently introduced in New Jersey and Washington state underscore the sense of urgency behind the campaign.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced her support of the measure at an Olympia press conference earlier this month, while several Republican lawmakers have also backed the bill. Reports indicate that it only needs one more vote to pass.
"To all my senators who are watching; please stand up, please do the right thing and please pass marriage equality in Washington State," said Tacoma, Wash., Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Maryland legislators are expected to debate a marriage equality bill in the coming months, while Maine voters in November will decide whether to overturn a ban on nuptials for same-sex couples that they approved in 2009. And even though these efforts continue to build momentum, several states are considering measures that would prohibit gays and lesbians from tying the knot.
North Carolina voters in May will consider a constitutional amendment that would prohibit marriage for gays and lesbians. Minnesotans face a similar ballot initiative in November. New Hampshire lawmakers had been scheduled to vote on a measure this month that would overturn their state's marriage equality law that took effect in Jan. 2010, but leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature have postponed it until at least February.
Will this campaign make a difference?
Chapel Hill, N.C., Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is among the four mayors from the Tarheel State who have joined the campaign. A Public Policy Polling survey in December found that 58 percent of North Carolina voters support the proposed amendment. The same PPP poll found that 56 percent of voters back either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.
"We have extraordinary momentum in North Carolina to be the first state in the country to actually turn back one of these hateful and discriminatory amendments," Kleinschmidt told Windy City Times after the press conference. "It's events like this that demonstrate this broad level of support across the country for marriage equality will actually enhance that momentum."