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Wolfson, Evan (b. 1957)  
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Attorney Evan Wolfson is a staunch champion of glbtq rights. He has participated in some of the crucial legal battles in the struggle for equality. As founder and executive director of the non-profit advocacy organization Freedom to Marry, he has been particularly visible in the quest for marriage equality.

The eldest of four children, Evan Wolfson was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 4, 1957 but grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents were ardent Democrats who dreamed that their son, who took an interest in politics from a young age, might become the first Jewish American president.

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Wolfson attended Allerdice High School, whose motto is "Know something, do something, be something." While what Wolfson knows, does, and is did not set him on a path to the White House, it did lead him to a life of exemplary service.

After his graduation in 1974, he enrolled at Yale, from which he received a baccalaureate degree in 1978. His excellent academic record earned him acceptance to Harvard Law School, but he joined the Peace Corps instead and worked for two years in a village in Togo.

He devoted himself to promoting education, raising money to create the Pittsburgh-Pagouda Friendship Library and Study Center, but he also became increasingly aware of the urgent need to promote the civil rights of glbtq people.

"While in the Peace Corps, I really came to understand how much of who you are is . . . shaped by the opportunities your society gives you," he told L. A. Johnson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I met friends [in Togo] who, had they grown up in another country, would have thought of themselves as gay, but they didn't have the choice."

Upon returning to the United States after his service in the Peace Corps, Wolfson entered Harvard Law School. His interest in glbtq rights led him to discover John Boswell's book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), which had a profound impact on him.

He had already witnessed the societal restrictions on his friends in Togo, but, he further stated to Johnson, "[Boswell's] book opened my eyes to the fact that being gay wasn't just about me personally, but had a political context that could change the way in which gay people are excluded from very important participation in society."

Among the obvious areas of exclusion was marriage, and, as a third-year law student, Wolfson wrote a thesis arguing for marriage equality.

Wolfson took an important step in his personal life: he came out to his family. Describing the moment to reporter Mark S. Warnick, he stated, "I think they were all surprised. I think that their main reaction was sadness, that I was not going to have the kind of life they expected and were familiar with. But they were always loving and supportive. They're very proud of what I do and they've always been there for me."

After receiving his law degree in 1983, Wolfson became an assistant district attorney in Kings (Brooklyn), New York, a job that he held until 1988. While in that capacity, he also wrote amicus curiae briefs in the United States Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky (1986), which prohibited racial discrimination in jury selection, and in the New York state case People v. Liberta (1984), which eliminated the exemption for marital rape.

Wolfson began an association with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1984, donating his services as a pro bono cooperating attorney with the approval of his boss, then District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman. Two years later he wrote the organization's amicus brief when Bowers v. Hardwick, a challenge to Georgia's sodomy law, was argued in the United States Supreme Court.

Recalling the trial, Wolfson told Tony Mauro of The American Lawyer that as he sat next to Michael Hardwick and heard Chief Justice Warren Burger ask, "Didn't they used to put people to death for this [i.e., sodomy]?" he "knew that we were doomed right then and there. The Court felt like a very hostile place."

After the bitterly divided court upheld the law by a 5-4 vote, Wolfson was discouraged. "I went through a couple of days of wondering how I could be a lawyer, how I could be part of this system," he stated to Mauro, but he persevered in his quest for glbtq rights.

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Evan Wolfson in 2006. Photograph by David Shankbone.
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