The new effort, called Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, will include significant field and media work over the next year in partnership with supportive organizations across the region. Bipartisan co-chairs include civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who kicked off the campaign in a web ad; U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.); and George W. Bush advisor Mark McKinnon from Texas.
“Our investment in the South comes at a pivotal time in the marriage movement,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
“The South is home to hundreds of thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples – and to a majority of the nearly 50 federal marriage cases now underway in courts across the country. Our new campaign will give voice to the many in the region now ready to move forward, including clergy, business leaders, conservatives, and family members, to show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry,” said Wolfson.
Despite growing support in the South, Southern states continue to discriminate against the more than 200,000 couples and their families who make the region their home. According to 2010 Census Bureau data, same-sex couples raising children are more common in the South than in any other region of the country. A recent poll of registered Southern voters showed that support for the freedom to marry in the region is now evenly split.
In the kick-off ad, Rep. Lewis shares his private photos of his heroic civil rights leadership, and passionately declares, “You cannot have rights for one segment of the population – for one group of people – and not for everybody. Civil rights and equal rights must be for all of God’s children.”
The Southerners for the Freedom to Marry campaign launched with 13 honorary co-chairs:
• Alabama: State Representative Patricia Todd (D)
• Arkansas: TV producers Harry Thomason & Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan (D)
• Florida: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
• Georgia: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D), Rep. John Lewis (D)
• Mississippi: Lance Bass, musician and author
• North Carolina: Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt (D)
• South Carolina: U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D)
• Texas: U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D); Mark McKinnon, chief media advisor to President George W. Bush
• Virginia: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D)
“As a conservative, I don’t believe you or I or the government can tell people who they can love or marry,” said McKinnon. “Freedom means freedom for everyone, not just for some. That’s why I’m a southerner for the freedom to marry. And the political reality is that the marriage wedge has lost its edge. This train has left the station and we all need to get onboard.”
Southerners for the Freedom to Marry is led in partnership between Freedom to Marry and the following: the Equality Federation, the Campaign for Southern Equality, Georgia Equality, Equality Alabama, Equality Florida, Equality Louisiana, Equality Texas, Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina, South Carolina Equality, the Equality Network of Oklahoma, and the Fairness Campaign of Kentucky.