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Congratulations to Evan Wolfson
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/17/12
Last updated on: 05/18/12
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Evan Wolfson.

Congratulations to Evan Wolfson, sometimes known as the "Godfather of the marriage equality movement," on receiving Barnard College's Medal of Distinction on May 14, 2012. By a happy coincidence, Wolfson received the honor at the Barnard graduation ceremony at which President Obama, fresh from his evolution on marriage equality, delivered the commencement address.

The medal was presented to Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, by former Chief Justice of New York's highest court, Judith S. Kaye, who wrote a powerful dissent in the 2006 New York case in which the New York Court of Appeal declared that there was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. In her dissent, Kaye noted that denying marriage to same-sex couples does not serve the interest of children and predicted that future generations will consider the decision "an unfortunate misstep."

In an e-mail to Karen Ocamb, editor of Frontiers, which she published at Bilerico, Wolfson described his emotions on that momentous day.

"It was such a joyous day--looking out over these inspiring Barnard women, being presented the Medal of Distinction by a civil rights champion like Judge Judith Kaye who spoke generously of my work and how far we've come, sharing the Medal with President Obama the very week he embraced the freedom to marry, and then hearing the waves of cheers and applause first for the freedom to marry and then as the President followed by invoking the arc "from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall" as a call to further action--and happily, my parents, my sister, my brothers, and my husband were all there to share the big day with me. Truly the honor of a lifetime."

Below is the citation read by Justice Kaye.

"Evan Wolfson. Attorney and activist. Hero of the charge for marriage equality and champion for the cause of civil rights for all.

Even as a kid, it never occurred to you that there were limits on what you could achieve. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Pittsburgh, then on to Yale, the Peace Corps, and Harvard Law School, where your 1983 thesis on gay marriage--at a time when the issue was not on the national radar--could easily be seen as prescient. In three decades since, every move you have made has been in service to your vision for equality and freedom. As assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, where you helped end race discrimination in jury selection. On the New York State Task Force on Sexual Harassment. As co-counsel in the pivotal Hawaii marriage case, and expert advisor in the Vermont case that established civil unions. In the fight for gays to serve our country, to adopt, to secure equal benefits. And in your brilliant argument before the Supreme Court of the United States in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, that proclaimed that banning gays was simply not an option.

As founder and president of Freedom to Marry, and with your seminal book, Why Marriage Matters, you have turned a once lonely march into a surging national movement. In 2011, New York joined the wave, and the win was transformative. When the state that welcomed your grandparents as immigrants in 1917 became the sixth and largest to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, the number of Americans with the freedom to marry more than doubled. The momentum in the direction of your dream is undeniable.

Today, we hail your extraordinary influence and your limitless commitment to the rights of every loving man and woman with the Barnard Medal of Distinction. To echo the iconic Martin Luther King, you are a drum major for justice. . . . and a true inspiration."

In the video below, Wolfson and former Governor Eliot Spitzer discuss the politics of marriage equality.

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