Evan Wolfson on Civil Rights and DOMA’s Downfall
Jim Lange, CPA/Attorney
Guest: Evan Wolfson
1. Introduction of Guest – Evan Wolfson
2. Why Is Same-Sex Marriage Important?
3. Accepting Children Who Are Gay
4. Treat Others As You Would Want To Be Treated
5. Taking Down The Central Part of DOMA
6. Ending The Denial Of Marriage Benefits Everybody
7. Married Couples Should Be Treated The Same Across The Country
8. Lack Of Social Security Benefits For Same-Sex Marriages
9. Being A Part Of The Civil Rights Movement
10. The First Step To Change Is Conversation
1. Introduction of Guest – Evan Wolfson
David Bear: Hello, and welcome to this edition of The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks. I’m David Bear, here in the KQV studio with Jim Lange, CPA/Attorney and author of two bestselling books, “Retire Secure!” and “The Roth Revolution: Pay Taxes Once and Never Again.” Since a recent Supreme Court ruling partially dismantled DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the civil rights of same-sex couples to marry has been in the news constantly. To help shed light on this complex and ever-evolving civil rights issue, we welcome a distinguished guest to today’s Lange Money Hour. Time magazine named Evan Wolfson, one of the one hundred most influential people in the world for his legal advocacy work on gay rights and same-sex marriage. A Pittsburgh native, Evan graduated from Allderdice High School in 1974, going on to Yale College and Harvard Law School. For twelve years, he served as director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy nonprofit based in New York City. He was co-counsel in the historic Hawaii marriage case that helped launch the ongoing global movement for the freedom to marry. He also appeared before the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America versus Jim Dale. In 2003, Evan founded Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide. His 2004 book, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry,” was one reason that Newsweek dubbed him ‘the godfather of gay marriage.’ Last year, he received the Barnard Medal of Distinction, along with President Barack Obama. So, stay tuned for an informative and provocative edition of The Lange Money Hour, and with that, I’ll say hello, Jim and welcome, Evan.
Jim Lange: Welcome, Evan.
Evan Wolfson: Thank you. Good to be with you.
Jim Lange: And thank you, David. Although I think the Martin Luther King of the LGBT community might be more accurate than the godfather term.
Evan Wolfson: I think that’s lavish praise. Thank you very much.
Jim Lange: Well deserved. But before we get into today’s substance, I did want to mention, I actually went to high school with Evan. We graduated from Taylor Allderdice in 1974. Evan was extremely bright back then, talented in both math and science, as well as history, English, etc. Evan is from a family of physicians, including the physician than my daughter went to, and he could’ve easily chosen a lucrative career in medicine or science. But even back in high school, he was more interested in influencing the world than making money. He was an extremely articulate and persuasive debater, and he could’ve made a lot of money as a corporate attorney. Evan didn’t choose that route. Instead, he actually became one of the most influential civil rights advocates of our time and has fought tirelessly for the civil rights of the gay and lesbian community and for the rights of same-sex couples. In recognition of how important this work is, our show tonight will focus on the civil rights of the LGBT community, and more specifically, on the rights of same-sex couples to marry. You might expect, knowing me, that this show would deal with such subjects as optimization strategies for PA same-sex couples in the area of IRAs, retirement planning, income tax planning, Social Security optimization, and even discussing the financial and estate planning advantages for PA residents to get married out of state and returned. That will be covered in my workshop this Saturday. This show will really concentrate on the civil rights of the LGBT community, and more specifically, the right to marry for same-sex couples. And before I also get into the substance, I would highly recommend that listeners, whether you currently support same-sex marriage, or even if you don’t…in fact, particularly if you don’t, I would encourage you to read and purchase Evan’s book, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marriage.” So, Evan, same-sex couple marriage is extremely controversial today throughout the country. You’ve been involved in bruising battles: Hawaii, and have even argued in front of the Supreme Court. Why do you think that marriage for same-sex couples is so important that you’re basically devoting your life to the fight for same-sex couples and the right to marry?
2. Why Is Same-Sex Marriage Important?
Evan Wolfson: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for all that kind introduction, and of course, in retrospect, it turns out making money would have been a good thing for me to do, so I’m glad people are listening to your show. Maybe I should be paying more attention, as well. But, in all seriousness, marriage is important to gay people for the same mix of reasons it’s important to non-gay people. It is the primary way in which we make a statement of commitment to another person and fulfill the dreams that most of us have of finding someone we can build a life with, someone who will put up with us, someone who we could care for and be cared for by, and that aspiration to love, and to commitment, and to companionship, and to bringing families together to create a new combined family going forward, are deep human aspirations that gay people share, just like non-gay people. And the ability to enter into that commitment, and have the commitment you’re making in life be reflected in a commitment under the law, is extremely important. It’s such an important thing to almost all of us that most people wear its symbol on our hands, and that’s important for gay people, as for non-gay people. It’s important for gay people’s parents and loved ones as it is for the family of all of us. So, first and foremost, it’s about that love and commitment and standing together and dreaming of a life together and having that commitment and that dream reinforced by the law. And reinforced not just with protections and benefits, but also with important responsibilities and obligations that people take on. Marriage is also, as you know and you really are an expert in, a gateway to a vast array of legal and economic consequences. Marriage triggers legal and economic responsibilities and protections that help a family navigate the ups and downs of ordinary life and the hard times and crises that come to us in life. Marriage is a safety net. Marriage is a system of responsibility and protection that really touches every area of life, from birth to death, with taxes in between, and that safety net, that set of responsibilities and protections, matters to gay people and our loved ones, our children, our aging parents, the people we care about, the businesses we’re interacting with, in the same way that it matters for non-gay people. So, for all those reasons, I long have believed, and long have committed work to, that we should have this, that it should be something that gay people should have the ability to enter into and take seriously and benefit by. I also believe (and I argued thirty years ago in my law school thesis on gay people and their freedom to marry) that by claiming the vocabulary of marriage, by talking about our lives in this common universal language of love and commitment and dedication and self-sacrifice and family, that we would help non-gay people better understand who gay people are, and that would benefit gay people and the society by reducing anti-gay prejudice, and by helping bring gay people into the society in every way, and enable gay people to flourish and participate and benefit and contribute equally to the society we all share in our precious time on this planet. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last decade of this struggle, that as we claim that vocabulary of marriage and talked about why marriage matters and who gay people are, non-gay people have opened their hearts and changed their minds, and when I was doing the first trial ever in the history of the world on what reason the government has to deny gay people the freedom to marry back in the nineties in Hawaii, only 27% of the American people supported the freedom to marry. Now, we’ve more than doubled that during the years of this conversation to about 55%, a solid national majority, and that’s because people have had a chance to talk about gay people, not as a set of prejudices and stereotypes, but as real people with real dreams, real love, real desire to participate, and people have changed.
Jim Lange: Interesting that you mention the word ‘language’ because our fellow classmate, who I’m sure you remember, Orrin Spigler, wrote an op-ed saying that he’s all for economic equality, and he recommended a different language, though, that he said Pennsylvania should adopt a civil union status. How would you respond to Orrin’s objection that, “Hey, I’m all for economic equality. We can try to come up with some, or most, of the same rights through something called a civil union status,” but he didn’t want to go as far as saying you could have a same-sex couple be married?
Evan Wolfson: Well, one of the main protections that comes with marriage is the word ‘marriage.’ When you say “I’m married,” everyone knows who you are in relationship to the primary person you’re building your life with. You don’t have to hire a lawyer. You don’t have to write a contract. You don’t have to fumble for documents. You say you’re married. You say, “This is my husband.” “This is my wife.” And everyone understands the primacy of that commitment and its need for legal protections and respect. To be relegated to some other new legal status that is lesser and separate and other, immediately deprives people of something really, really important. You know, nobody writes songs about civil union. We write songs about love and marriage. And we share that same aspiration, and need that same security, that same clarity, under the law. And this is not just me saying this. We now have experience in this country with efforts to experiment with creating other separate legal statuses to provide some protections while withholding others for gay couples, and virtually all the states that began by creating civil union or partnership as a separate status and proposed substitute have now actually pushed past civil union or partnership to marriage itself. New Jersey being the most recent of the several states that have done that, Vermont, New Hampshire and others. And they’ve done that because they found that in their experiment with a status that was separate and other and lesser that it didn’t provide the full measure of protection and respect. It created complications and confusion and uncertainty and left people unequal under the law and in their daily life, and that’s not the right thing for America. And what the states found was that it really wasn’t solving a problem, it was creating problems, and the right answer is to not create some whole separate other legal thing, but to actually allow gay people to share the same set of protections and responsibilities under the law with those two words, ‘I do.’
Jim Lange: And to quote you to you: “Separate is not equal. The reason to call it something else is that it would be something else,” which I thought was very good.
Evan Wolfson: Exactly!
3. Accepting Children Who Are Gay
Jim Lange: So, in my work as a financial advisor, I do annual reviews, and one same-sex couple recently just came in actually about two weeks ago, and said, “Guess what?” They went to New York and got married, which interestingly enough, is what I’m going to advocate for many same-sex couples in Pennsylvania in my workshop this Saturday. But what they said was so unusual for them about getting married, is it wasn’t something they dreamed about since they were kids, or even until recently. They were always denied the fantasy of meeting their lifelong partner, falling in love, and enjoying the social and financial benefits of marriage. In your book, you said that even as a young boy, before you even realized you were gay, that you thought there was something in the picture society showed me that you didn’t fit into. Where do children fit in with this issue of same-sex marriage, and what about the children of same-sex couples?
Evan Wolfson: Well, that’s the beauty of the progress that America has made over the last fifteen or so years in ending this discrimination in so many states, and by the way, people living in Pennsylvania, while they’re obviously welcome to come to where I now live, New York, and do what my husband and I did, get married here, they don’t have to travel. Pennsylvanians don’t only have to travel to New York. They can also go to neighboring states like Delaware and New Jersey.
Jim Lange: And Maryland.
Evan Wolfson: They all have the freedom to marry, and hopefully others soon to come. So, Pennsylvania really needs to get moving because there’s no reason people should have to leave Pennsylvania and cross a border in order to have what all of us ought to have right at home with our families, which is the full protection and equality under the law. But, with regard to children, what we’ve now done is say that for gay kids, for young people who are growing up and discovering that they’re gay, and, you know, obviously, their parents and loved ones who care about their own kids and want the best for their kids, gay or non-gay, those kids don’t have to feel like alien or other or denied or excluded. They can dream of a life with a person who will care for them and have that love respected and protected under the law. We have ended that exclusion for so many kids now, and that’s a wonderful thing. No kid should have to grow up fearing that they will be denied love and that they will be denied the ability to be who they are and to pursue happiness and to contribute fully in society, that they will be disrespected. We’ve turned the federal government now from being the number one discriminator against gay kids to now being on the side of those kids, and being on the side of gay couples, and being on the side of the Constitution, and on the side of freedom to marry. But there are still too many states, like Pennsylvania…
David Bear: Thirty-five.
Evan Wolfson: …that have not yet caught up where we need to end that discrimination and exclusion. And I also think, for parents who have kids that may not be gay, most parents don’t want to be teaching their kids that it’s okay to look down on others who are different, that they should be afraid of people who are different. Most parents understand that it’s wrong to teach their kids to discriminate, or to have a false sense of superiority, or to not be able to deal and survive in a diverse world. I think most parents have come a long way in understanding that it’s important that we be accepting and respectful of all kids, and that our kids are best off when they’re able to flourish and participate in society where they deal with people who are different, as well as people who are like them.
4. Treat Others As You Would Want To Be Treated
Jim Lange: Well, Evan, even right now, you’re speaking…and your book is written with clarity and compassion. I actually kind of expected something a little bit more legalistic, if you will, from a New York attorney rather than a civil rights humanitarian, and one of the things I liked about your book is it was filled with so many compassionate stories of good people really trying to lead their lives. I was wondering if you could give our listeners an example of some story that may have been influential to you that can kind of bring home some of these issues, because I really thought that that was one of the great things about your book, which is why I so much want anybody who is opposed to same-sex marriage to read it because it was really written, to me, at a very human level. And again, by the way, for people who are listening, Evan’s book is “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marriage.” So, is there a story that you can think of that might have some impact for some of our listeners?
Evan Wolfson: Well, thank you, first of all, for your comment. I mean, I’ve long argued (and I can say this as a lawyer) that this question is too important to be left to the lawyers. This is about us as people, as family members, as neighbors, as citizens, and wanting to follow the golden rule of treating others as you’d want to be treated. And I think my favorite example of that actually doesn’t come from my book, so I’m glad that there are many other stories in the book that I think people can benefit from. But it actually comes from last year, when President Obama talked about how he had moved past his prior position in favor of civil union alone to actually embrace the freedom to marry, and what I thought was so striking about the president doing that and talking to the American people was not only that he was showing the moral leadership and standing up for the full equality and dignity of all Americans under the law in embracing the freedom to marry, but also it was how he explained it. What you may remember is that when he talked to the American people about why he had changed his mind in favor of the freedom to marry, he didn’t talk as a lawyer. He didn’t talk as the President. He didn’t talk as commander-in-chief. He talked about it, first and foremost, as a parent, and what he said was that he and Michelle had many conversations with their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and that the girls had talked with their parents about classmates of theirs whom they knew who were being raised by gay parents. They knew those families and the girls said that they didn’t really think it was fair that those families should be treated differently or worse than their own family. And the President said that he and Michelle had really reflected and had agreed that if they were going to teach their daughters values that they cherish as parents, as Christians, the President said that they needed to really be true to those values themselves, including first and foremost, that value of the golden rule, treating others as you’d want to be treated. The President said that conversation, that set of conversations with their daughters, together with the fact that he knew gay people, he has gay people who are friends, he has gay people on his staff, and he had watched those people in their lives parenting, worrying about their own aging parents, making a commitment to one another and being faithful and true to that commitment in life, the President said that because of really all those values, those personal relationships, his own relationships as a parent, his relationships as a friend, his relationships as a member of a team at a workplace, led him to really believe that he had to stand up for that idea that everybody should be treated with respect, and that includes the freedom to marry. And I think that explanation rang very, very true because it really is the exact journey that so many millions of Americans have made as they’ve had a chance to think this through and come out in support of the freedom to marry.
Jim Lange: Well, right now, you have an optimistic tone in your voice, and actually an optimistic tone in your book, that you said that once fair-minded people see the real stakes and hear the real stories, that they will help to fulfill our country’s commitment to equality under the law. Do you still believe that?
Evan Wolfson: Oh, absolutely. I mean, as you know, I wrote the book in 2004 when we had just won the freedom to marry for the first time in Massachusetts. After trying so hard for decades before, and having come close and having shaped the conversation, but still been denied and excluded, we finally had won the breakthrough freedom to marry, and at the same time, we were targeted for an anti-gay attack and an attempt to roll back that gain. We saw a tremendous effort to amend the Constitution in Massachusetts to take away the freedom to marry. We saw anti-gay ballot measures push through in that election year (2004) in thirteen states. We saw denunciations by the then Pope and the then President of the United States, and yet here we are now almost a decade, and we’ve gone from that one state with the freedom to marry to now sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia. We’ve gone from a handful of Americans beginning to be able to share in the freedom to marry to now 38% of Americans, more than a third, living in a state where gay people are able to share in the freedom to marry. So, I was optimistic even when we were just at the beginning because I really believed in the power of conversation, the power of persuasion, and the willingness of fair-minded people, given the information and given the time to think it through and to take a deep breath and to think about their own values of how they would want to be treated, to move, and that’s been the story of American history. You know, our country is not perfect. It’s never been perfect. There have long been terrible chapters of exclusion and denial, but the history of our country is that when enough good people engage in a conversation and engage in the work to fix something, America moves in the right direction, and that’s what I believed would happen and that is what is happening. But on the other hand, the other lesson from history is it doesn’t happen by itself. It only happens when good people get engaged and do the work. As I’ve said in this struggle all along, there’s no marriage without engagement. We really have to engage non-gay people in this conversation and work hard to end the legal and political discrimination, and much as we’ve made tremendous progress, and much as I am optimistic about our ability to finish the job, we have to finish the job because we still now have more than three-fifths of the country living in states where there is discrimination, and where there is denial, including states like my own home state of Pennsylvania, where my family still lives, and it’s really important that we work hard and finish the job.
David Bear: At this point, let’s take a quick break, and we’ll continue the conversation when we get back.
5. Taking Down The Central Part of DOMA
David Bear: And welcome back to The Lange Money Hour. I’m David Bear, here with Jim Lange and Evan Wolfson.
Jim Lange: Well, first, I’m going to repeat my recommendation that everybody, and particularly those who are opposed to same-sex marriage, purchase Evan’s book, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality & Gay People’s Right to Marriage.” Evan, John Lewis said that DOMA should not be called the Defense of Marriage Act. It should be called the Defense of Mean-Spirited Bigots Act. Has the recently decided case invalidating much of DOMA for federal tax purposes helped vindicate some of your work, or does it inspire you to realize that there’s still so much more to do?
Evan Wolfson: Well, both. You know, first of all, Congressman John Lewis, who, of course, is a civil rights icon and a personal hero, I’m sure, to many of us and certainly to me, stood on the floor of the House back in 1996 when he opposed the anti-gay bill. That bill, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, was passed literally as I was in the courtroom in Hawaii with my co-counsel, a non-gay man, Dan Foley, in the world’s first-ever trial, in which the government was being asked just to show a reason why gay people should be denied the freedom to marry, and of course, that Hawaii case found there was no good reason once the government was forced to have to put up or shut up. But Congress couldn’t even wait to hear the answer. They passed this anti-gay law, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and heroes like Congressman John Lewis spoke out against it then. I, at the time, said that this law is unconstitutional and wrong and will not stand, and happily, because we live in a country where if you do the work and stick with it, justice does triumph. You can win. You can create change. Here we are seventeen years later, and this year, the Supreme Court struck down the central part of that anti-gay law, and agreed with Congressman Lewis and those of us who said that this law is inconsistent, and with the constitution’s commitment to equality, and with the basic respect due to married couples. And so, as a result of that victory, couples who now get legally married, gay couples or non-gay couples, will be treated with respect by the federal government, even if they live in a state like Pennsylvania that discriminates against them, and we have to work to continue to end that discrimination in states like Pennsylvania, my home state. But in the meantime, couples who are living in Pennsylvania who get legally married where they are able to in states that surround Pennsylvania and others across the country that have ended this discrimination, those couples, even if they’re discriminated against by Pennsylvania for a period of time, are going to be treated as what they are—married—by the federal government.
Jim Lange: You had mentioned the case in Hawaii, and I think that you’re talking about the case that Judge Chang…
Evan Wolfson: Umm-hmm.
6. Ending The Denial Of Marriage Benefits Everybody
Jim Lange: …pointed out, and ultimately held that there was no compelling state interest in allowing same-sex couples not to marry. Could you address this issue in terms of state interests?
Evan Wolfson: Right. Well, obviously, gay people had been denied the freedom to marry for, you know, many, many, many centuries, and, of course, people like me, who grew up as young kids in Pittsburgh and went to high school with people like you and so on, at that time, that denial was just assumed to be necessary and natural and fair and fine. But partly, that was because there had never been a court examination, let alone a legislative examination, of what the reason was for denying gay people the freedom to marry. So, in Hawaii, when we were finally able to have our day in court, and the government had to come in with a reason, it turned out it didn’t really have a reason, and the kinds of arguments that people sometimes put forward, which are the arguments that I address in my book and really try to show the answers to, people will say things like, “Well, my religion doesn’t support the freedom to marry for gay people.” And, of course, the answer to that is, this is not about what churches or temples or synagogues or mosques do. They are free to decide for themselves, and always will be, who can get religiously married. This is about the government’s issuance of civil marriage licenses, and just as we don’t want the government telling churches whom they must marry, so we don’t want any church or religion telling the government who can get a legal marriage license. You don’t want the government, like the bishop, calling up to the city clerk and saying, “Don’t give that divorced Catholic couple a marriage license.” We wouldn’t want that because that’s an intrusion, not just on personal freedom, but on religious freedom. And other arguments that people sometimes make are things like, “Well, what if it’s not good for the kids?” But it turns out that all the expert evidence, all the expert authorities, actually have said that ending the denial of marriage actually is better for kids because it allows them to have a safety net of protections that reinforces and strengthens their family. And so, it’s in the best interests of children for government not to be discriminating, and for children being raised by gay couples to have that same set of safety net and protections and respect that we want for all kids. And people will say things, “Well, what if it’s going to cost too much? What if it will tap into the treasury?” And so on, and it turns out that actually ending the denial of marriage benefits the government, and benefits the finances of the community and health because it’s good for business and it’s good for the government for people to be strengthened and stronger in their ability to care for one another and to be there as the primary caregivers rather than thrown onto the safety net of the society. And so, all the arguments that have historically been made, things like, “Well, if we allow gay people to marry, it’s going to destroy marriage, and that’s why we need the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.” Well, it turns out that when gay people are able to marry, no one else’s marriage is harmed. The gays don’t use up all the marriage licenses. Nothing terrible happens. But what does happen is that some families are strengthened and better off, while everyone else is just fine. So, once we were able to make that case and have been able to have the courts take a look at it, and then the legislatures take a look at it, and now the Supreme Court take a look at it, and of course, people sitting around kitchen tables discussing this with their family members have all taken a look at it, and as people have taken a look at it, what they’ve seen is that families are helped and no one’s hurt when gay people are allowed to share in the freedom to marry.
7. Married Couples Should Be Treated The Same Across The Country
Jim Lange: Well, one of the chapters in your book is about marriage in one state being honored in another. Now, a Pennsylvania resident can go get legally married in New York. And by the way, part of the workshop that I’m going to do is I am going to recommend that many same-sex couples go to New York, and I was going to make a joke and say I have no personal interest in anyone going to New York and getting married, but I found out that one of my gay cousins is now a judge in New York, so I guess, theoretically, I do have an interest. But anyway, since, let’s say, Pennsylvania and the other thirty-four states can go out of state to get married, why is it so important that you are willing, on a state-by-state basis, to fight it out in each of the other states, including many of the other states that actually have a Constitutional amendment against it?
Evan Wolfson: Well, as a fairness matter, people should not have to leave their home, leave their family, leave their friends, leave their state, and go travel to somewhere else in the United States in order to have the same protections and respect that all of us are due as Americans in all parts of the country. We’re not fifty separate kingdoms. We’re one country. And people shouldn’t have to travel in order to be treated fairly under the law. But it’s also important from the community’s and state’s perspective, and for that matter, from the perspective of businesses, to have one system where people are respected and protected equally, where there isn’t this patchwork of discrimination and uncertainty, as well as respect, that everybody has to try to navigate. It just makes it harder for businesses and for banks and for employers, as well as for families, to know whether they’re married or not, depending on where they’re parking that day. That’s just not a tenable good situation that is going to serve anybody’s interest. It makes much more sense for everybody to be treated with respect and dignity no matter where they are in the country, and to be able to contribute fully and equally and have that security that comes with knowing your family is respected and treated with respect. And it’s just part of what it is to be an American to be able to travel and work and go on vacation or be relocated or what have you, and be able to visit your cousin who lives in New York and not worry about whether your family is going to be more vulnerable because you crossed the state border. States have no interest in discriminating against people who live there or who travel there, and it makes much more sense to respect marriages rather than destabilize them for the betterment of everybody.
Jim Lange: Well, I actually think that that was something that the U.S. government did right, because after the Windsor case, there was a subsequent ruling that basically said for federal income tax purposes, we’re going to treat anybody that is legally married based on the state of celebration, in other words, where they were married, not where they live, as controlling. So, for federal income tax purposes, and for federal estate tax and income tax…
David Bear: Social Security.
Jim Lange: Well, Social Security, not yet, but we’re working on that one.
Evan Wolfson: Exactly.
Jim Lange: The federal government is going to recognize a same-sex marriage, which I think is wonderful.
8. Lack Of Social Security Benefits For Same-Sex Marriages
Evan Wolfson: The Obama Administration deserves a lot of credit for…literally, on the very first day the Supreme Court ruled, the President came out and said, “We are going to move swiftly and smoothly to enforce this ruling and the Constitution’s command of equality,” and federal programs have been moving to do just that. But at the end of the day, it should be uniform throughout all federal programs, and that protection is something that everybody should have. Married couples should be treated as married, no matter where they’re living.
Jim Lange: And by the way, the Social Security issue that David just mentioned, that, to me, is one of the most critical issues because a traditional, or opposite sex, couple married, if one dies, the survivor basically takes the higher of the two Social Security benefits. So, if you have two people of unequal earning power and the stronger earner dies, right now, although, again, we’re hoping that that’s going to change, the dependent or less strong financially partner is really in bad shape, and that I believe should be changed and we’re working on it.
Evan Wolfson: Well, that’s right. And again, I want to underscore that at its heart, this is first and foremost about love and commitment and people’s desire to be married and to be treated with respect and to make that commitment to one another and to be upheld by their family and friends and their community and the law. It’s first and foremost about that very intangible love and commitment. It is also about the safety net of rules and protections and responsibilities that comes with marriage, and that safety net is often most important in times of hardship or crisis like the death of a loved one, or dissolution of the relationship, or illness, or the need to bring your partner securely to the country through immigration. You know, at difficult times is when we often need that safety net the most, of course, and to be denied that safety net when you’re a senior, not only dealing with the grief of the loss of a loved one, but now the potential of a terrible estate tax, or a terrible refusal to provide Social Security and the support you’ve become accustomed to in building a life together with your partner. That’s exactly what we shouldn’t be doing in our society, hitting people when they’re most vulnerable, and that applies to gay people as to non-gay people.
David Bear: Well, you know, this is a good place to take that one final break, and when we return, Jim and Evan will continue the conversation.
9. Being A Part Of The Civil Rights Movement
David Bear: And welcome back to The Lange Money Hour, with Jim Lange and Evan Wolfson.
Jim Lange: Evan, on a more personal note, I had said earlier that I remembered your abilities in high school and know your family and said that you could’ve easily been a very successful and wealthy physician, or even a corporate attorney, but you have chosen a different life, a life fighting for civil rights, and in your book…and by the way, I’ll mention it one more time, because I really believe everybody should get it, and particularly those who oppose same-sex marriage, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marriage.” But anyway, you said that ‘the thing that motivates me personally to devote myself to this campaign most of all is the inheritance: the commitment to equality and making the world better, given to all of us by the civil rights leader who came before.’ Do you still believe that?
Evan Wolfson: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think it is part of the tradition that I grew up in. You know, first of all, the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, making the world better, mending the world. I think, as an American, we all owe a tremendous debt to those who fought hard to end, or at least combat, race discrimination, sex discrimination, all the other kinds of exclusion, religious discrimination that we’ve seen in our country and to make our country a more perfect union. My heroes are people like Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln and the Roosevelts and others who understood the need to get in there and not just to expect to be handed everything, but to get in there and work hard to make our country better, and to fulfill its promise for everybody, and that is the kind of stuff that, even if it sounds corny, always motivated me as a kid, and very much inspire me still to this day.
Jim Lange: And you even said that thirty years from now, when gay people have won the right of the freedom to marry, and our society looks back and wonders what the big deal was, the next generation will want to know where we stood and what we did at this pivotal moment, which I thought was very powerful.
Evan Wolfson: And the great thing is, it’s very satisfying to be part of something that is making life better for people and enriching our society, and I think people who’ve gone on that journey, the kind of journey that President Obama described, and that others of us who’ve struggled and debated what our position should be, and then come out on the right side, it feels really good to be part of something that is making life better and doing something well and helping the country. This began perhaps somewhat as a lonely, controversial, uncertain proposition, but now, of course, as I said earlier, the majority of the American people support the freedom to marry. 63% of Catholics, for example, support the freedom to marry. A majority, certainly a super majority of younger people, people under thirty, by 81%, support the freedom to marry, and obviously, we’ve seen sixteen states and eighteen countries on five continents, all up from virtually zero a little more than a decade ago. So, to join in this work and to be part of this effort is really about adding another brick to America’s civil rights edifice, and it’s about doing something good that really is winning, and it feels good to actually be doing something that’s moving in the right direction when so much else in our country is not moving in the right direction.
10. The First Step To Change Is Conversation
Jim Lange: Well, I think that you have inspired a lot of people today, and let’s say that there are people in our audience, both gay and non-gay, who are interested in helping the movement go forward…I’ll say, from a self-serving standpoint, that many same-sex couples should attend my workshop this Saturday, and we can talk about what you can do to improve your financial situation and that of your partner. But let’s go back to the civil rights issues. The first thing, I’ll repeat again, that I think people should do is purchase your book, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marriage,” by Evan Wolfson. But let’s talk a little bit about what we can do, and particularly, let’s say, in Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett has been called on the carpet for comparing same-sex marriage to incest, which I think was incredibly insulting. What are some of the things that Pennsylvanians…and by the way, we actually have a national audience, and our new website, which is www.outestateplanning.com, that also has an article on it that describes some of what people should do, again, not in terms of civil rights or social, but economically. What should people be doing in Pennsylvania to move this movement forward?
Evan Wolfson: Well, the key to creating the climate that allows states like Pennsylvania to end this discrimination, as states like New Jersey and Delaware and New York and, you know, Pennsylvania’s neighbors have done, is conversation. The number one thing people could do is talk about why marriage matters and who gay people are in Pennsylvania with their friends and their families and their co-workers and their neighbors, and if you’re gay, it’s important that you speak out and talk about your life and how you’re living in Pennsylvania and what it means to be denied the legal protections and responsibilities and the personal respect that come with marriage. If you’re not gay, it’s important to talk about gay people you know, or your values of treating others as you’d want to be treated and what kind of society you want to have and why this matters to you. And to help people get started in those conversations, people can visit websites like www.freedomtomarry.org, the campaign that I’m with, or we have a website called www.whymarriagematters.org that talks about the personal angle, the reasons why many other Americans, many other people in states like Pennsylvania, have moved in support of the freedom to marry. So, the first step is to become part of the conversation, and to add your voice to those discussions because through conversation, people move. People change. And that’s been the story. The second thing people can do is know the battleground. The battleground in Pennsylvania is, right now, there’s an anti-gay law that excludes gay couples from the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania, and we’re working to change that law. The number one way in which we’re working to change that now is through litigation. There are several lawsuits pending in Pennsylvania. One of the most important ones has been brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. So, people can go, again, to www.freedomtomarry.org and get updates on the Pennsylvania case and the work, or people can go to the ACLU’s website and read more about the lawsuit. The lawsuit, obviously, will make its way through the courts, and it’s in very good legal hands, and there are other lawsuits as well in Pennsylvania that are challenging this discrimination, brought by couples who want the freedom to marry and who are living lives together of commitment but don’t have that commitment under the law. But the key way we can help make sure that those lawsuits succeed is to create a climate around the courts that encourages the decision makers, be it judges, or, hopefully, the next wave of legislators and the next Governor of Pennsylvania, to do the right thing. And again, people can do that work by joining up with the many gay and non-gay organizations in Pennsylvania and nationally who are doing the work, and one key resource for finding those opportunities is the website www.freedomtomarry.org.
Jim Lange: Well, I’ll put in a little plug for that because I joined www.freedomtomarry.org. Just within a few minutes of joining, I signed a petition, I got out several letters to local legislators, the website is very well set up, which made it very easy. I joined the Mayors for Marriage and I made a donation. So, I thought that that was very well organized and I know you’re a little bit too nice to say, “Hey, you should go to my website,” but I will.
Evan Wolfson: Well, thank you. That’s great and one of the things that does make www.freedomtomarry.org a great resource is that we’re not only the campaign doing much of this work ourselves, but we very much support the work of our partners across the country, organizations as well as individuals, gay as well as non-gay, who are together doing this work. No one organization does it all. It takes all of us to get in there. And again, I really want to emphasize, it begins with personal conversations because no organization is going to be the best and faster than everyone. No individual is the best messenger to everyone. Each one of us is the best for the people who care about us. So, all of us can make a personal contribution and really be part of civil right’s change that is moving our country forward.
Jim Lange: Well, again, Evan, I want to thank you so much. This has been a wonderful hour. I’m going to encourage everybody to buy your book, “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marriage,” and to look at your website, www.freedomtomarry.org. Do you have any last very quick thoughts for our listeners that you might not have expressed so far?
Evan Wolfson: I think the biggest thing is that I still have close family and friends in Pennsylvania, and it really matters a lot to me. I want to win all states. I care about all of them. I just came back from Hawaii where we’ve been working for twenty years and finally, last week, won the freedom to marry. We celebrated the win in Illinois a few days later. But it’s especially important to me that we end this discrimination in Pennsylvania. I grew up in Pennsylvania. I grew up in Pittsburgh. I grew up with you and others. I know what a welcoming, loving, great community I was part of there, that my family’s still part of. It’s wrong to be discriminating against any part of our community and Pennsylvania can do better. I really want us to get there, and I hope people will take action to end this discrimination in Pennsylvania and really make places like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and all the points in between the welcoming, really full communities that they aspire to be.
David Bear: Well, I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of the hour. We can go on, but at any rate, thanks for listening to this edition of The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks and thanks to Evan Wolfson, who can be reached directly at his website, www.freedomtomarry.org. Thanks to the Lange Financial Group program coordinator, Amanda Cassady-Schweinsberg and to Amy, our KQV in-studio producer. As always, you can hear an encore broadcast of this show at 9:05 this Sunday morning, here on KQV, and you can always access the archive of past radio shows, including written transcripts, on the Lange Financial Group website, www.paytaxeslater.com. And please join us in two weeks on Wednesday, December 18th, when we’ll welcome back P.J. DiNuzzo for the next edition of The Lange Money Hour.