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social sciences

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Wolfson, Evan (b. 1957)  
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In 1989 Wolfson went to work full-time for Lambda Legal. Among the issues in cases he litigated were parental and adoption rights, discrimination in employment, and benefits for gay and lesbian partners of employees of New York City.

He also argued before the United States Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), exhorting the justices to uphold a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling ordering the Boy Scouts to readmit James Dale, a scoutmaster whom they had fired because of his homosexuality.

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In another 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the New Jersey decision; nevertheless, Dale praised Wolfson for taking on the case and bringing to public attention. "He is a visionary. He really gets it and understood the power of my story," Dale declared to Mauro. "He could easily be a millionaire working at some private firm, but he chose to work on these issues."

The issues in question included same-sex marriage. On the same day that Wolfson appeared before the U. S. Supreme Court in the ultimately unsuccessful Dale case, he learned that Vermont Governor Howard Dean had signed a bill authorizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Wolfson was part of the legal team that had presented its case in Baker v. Vermont in the state's Supreme Court, which ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to all the benefits of marriage but did not mandate marriage itself.

Although the decision in Vermont fell short of the goal of marriage equality, it was an important step in the right direction.

The Vermont case was not the first instance of Wolfson's advocacy for equal rights to marriage for all. As the head of Lambda Legal's marriage project, he served as co-counsel in challenging discriminatory laws in Hawaii.

For a heady moment in 1996 it appeared that Hawaii would lead the nation in granting marriage equality when Circuit Judge Kevin S. C. Chang ruled that the state had failed to present "sufficient credible evidence . . . that the public interest in the well-being of children or families, or the optimal development of children would be adversely affected by same-sex marriages" or, indeed, that the state had the requisite compelling interest to prohibit such marriages at all.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Wolfson called the decision "a historic moment for lesbians and gay men," adding that "when people look at it fairly, they'll see that the choice of who[m] to marry belongs to all of us, not just to the government."

Unfortunately his optimism was premature, as Hawaiian voters passed a discriminatory amendment to their state constitution in 1998, thwarting marriage equality.

Realizing the importance of the issue of equal rights to marriage, Wolfson accepted a 1.1-million-dollar grant from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation to found Freedom to Marry, a not-for-profit 501c(3) organization, in 2003. The start-up funding was exponentially less than the resources commanded by political and religious groups opposing marriage equality, but under Wolfson's leadership as Executive Director, Freedom to Marry has grown to become a strong and influential proponent of fairness in marriage laws.

Freedom to Marry's "Roadmap to Victory" outlines a threefold strategy. Since change is coming one state at a time, a vital goal is to "win more states" in the drive to end unequal treatment of couples throughout the country. To achieve these victories, Freedom to Marry aims to "build a majority for marriage" among the voting public so that pernicious ballot initiatives like California's Proposition 8 can be defeated and that those who hold or aspire to office may be emboldened to take a stand for equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of the vociferous cries by some to codify discrimination in state and national constitutions in contravention of the very documents they claim to defend.

In addition, Freedom to Marry is dedicated to "end[ing] federal marriage discrimination," now legal under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In 2004 Wolfson published Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry, a thorough-going examination of the myths advanced by opponents of equality (e.g., that children fare better with heterosexual parents), the numerous and vitally important "tangible benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities" denied to same-sex couples and their families under existing law, and the pressing need for glbtq people and allies to work for and effect change.

Wolfson recognizes that progress may come in small increments, yet he is optimistic that victory will be achieved. "The classic pattern for civil rights advancement in America is patchwork, but I see equal marriage rights for gays becoming a nationwide reality over the next 15 or 20 years. I really believe it will happen in my lifetime," he stated during a 2007 interview with Robin Finn of the New York Times.

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