PHOTOS: Advocating for the freedom to marry at the Louisville, KY town hall
March 25, 2015
Last week, on Wednesday, March 18, Freedom to Marry and the Campaign for Southern Equality were excited to host a Town Hall Metting in Louisville, Kentucky to discuss the importance of the freedom to marry in the state. The event came one day after a similar event in Lexington, Kentucky, also co-hosted alongside the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, spoke on a panel alongside Dawn Elliott, who is a member of the legal team at Fauver Law Office, and Dan Canon from Clay, Daniel, Walton & Adams. Shannon Fauver of Fauver Law Office and Joe Dunman of Clay, Daniel, Walton & Adams was also in attendance. These legal teams have fearlessly led the fight for marriage in Kentucky, representing real Kentucky families working toward bringing the freedom to marry to their home state. The panel was moderated by Aaron Sarver, Communications Director at the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Kentucky marriage plaintiffs Luke Meade-Barlowe, Rev. Maurice Blanchard, Paul Campion and Randy Johnson, and Gregory DeBourke and Michael DeLeon were also in attendance, giving an account of what it was like to be directly involving their family in these proceses. Michael Aldridge, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky, who are also co-counsel in the KY marriage cases (along with Stanford Law School's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic), also attended. These parties have been working so hard for nearly two years on the cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear, which will both be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, alongside other marriage cases from Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, on April 28.
Putting Their Families Front And Center
The Town Hall started off with a local Methodist faith leader leading the room in an interfaith prayer. The minister thanked the panelists for lending their voices to the fight for marriage, saying, "We're thankful for the stories that have brought us here tonight."
Next, two plaintiffs involved in the case - Rev. Maurice Blanchard, a Baptist preacher in Kentucky who has been with his partner Dominique James for many years and Luke Barlowe-Meade, who has been with his husband Jim for 47 years - shared their stories and talked about how it feels to be working toward the freedom to marry at the nation's highest court.
Rev. Blanchard said that he was 'elated' to join. Maurice and Dominique were married in a religious ceremony in their church nearly a decade ago, but they're saddened that their commitment is not legal in their home state of Kentucky.
"Someone asked why we didn't just marry in Illinois," Rev. Blanchard remembered. "And I said, Kentucky is our home. Our Church is here, our family is here, our work is here. When you love a place like we love Kentucky, you work hard to change it. The conversations that Dominique and I have had have been intimate conversations about who we are and what we want. We felt called by God to have an active, non-violent resistance to marriage discrimination in Kentucky.
"This has been a long time coming for Jim and me," Luke added. "When we first got together, things were very different."
Also in the audience were Greg Bourke & Michael DeLeon, who spoke about their family being involved in the legal proceedings - and how they wouldn't want it any other way. "Family is important to us," Greg said. "After 16 years of raising children in Kentucky, we need legal security, and we can't have that until we have the freedom to marry."
Paul Campion and Randy Johnson added how thrilled they were to take part of this case. "We're really proud to be a part of this movement," Paul said. "We've had some great encounters and conversations throughout Kentucky." Paul and Randy discussed some conversations with friends and neighbors that ultimately changed these people's minds on why marriage matters in their home state, including a conversation with their local mechanic, who told Randy and Paul that he had never thought about marriage until he heard news about their involvement with Bourke v. Beshear.
Leading the Movement In The Courts
Dawn Elliott sat on the panel representing Fauver Law Office, and Dan Canon represented Clay, Daniel Walton & Adams during the event. The lawyers were both thrilled to be representing such an important cause before the United States Supreme Court.
Dawn said that the marriage movement is a critical cause for her to support. "I wanted to do something meaningful with my law degree," she said. "It's a powerful weapon."
Dan Canon said he is optimistic about the outcome of the cases before the United States Supreme Court. "This wave of marriage rulings could not have happened if people were not willing and ready to accept the freedom to marry," he said. "I'm hopeful we will win - we have come this far with the support of so many organizations and supporters."
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, agreed that the support of the nation is behind marriage for all couples. "We now stand before the United States Supreme Court having built a critical mass of states and support," he said. "That's why we feel this momentum. It reminds us all that we must keep doing what we've been doing - it's been working, so we need to keep working.
Change on the Horizon
As the marriage movement faces the highest court in the nation, the panelists explained how all supporters of the freedom to marry could help move it forward and guarantee a victory this summer - and what the future of the freedom to marry and LGBT rights in the United States might look like.
"We need to continue putting a human face on this movement," Dan Canon advised, with Elliott adding, "I have faith that love will prevail here in Kentucky and nationwide when the Supreme Court rules."
"I don't ever want to make a prediction on what the United States Supreme court will do, but I have faith that they will be consistent in their ruling in United States v. Windsor," Dan Canon said.
When asked about a recent wave of anti-LGBT discrimination bills across the country, Canon was not phased. "We're lawyers - we fight battles," he said. "The marriage conversation is a conversation about stories, truth, and human connections and values to help people get to a place of understanding. That understanding is a prerequisite for work needed to get the law where it needs to be in terms of other protections agains discrimination."
Aaron Sarver of the Campaign for Southern Equality answered succinctly: "When do you see so-called 'backlashes' happen?" he asked. "When people gain power. When we start winning."
Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson explained why we're seeing so-called "religious freedom" bills surfacing in so many states throughout the country. He said, "Every time our country takes a step toward bringing more people into guarantee of equality, the opponents, waving flag of religious freedom, try to roll back those advances. But the rich transformation of hearts and minds stemming from the marriage conversation is a critical piece of broadly protecting the LGBT community."
More than anything, Wolfson said, marriage supporters need to know that their voices still matter and continue to be critically important - not just in marriage, but for the subsequent battles. "Do not go home to wait and see what happens," he said. "Do the work now to make the change we need."