One day, as Mark Twain and a friend stepped out into the street, a downpour began. “Do you think it will stop,” the friend asked. Twain replied, “It always has.”
Americans again face a worldwide, and world-changing, challenge. We will get through it – but mitigating and beating the COVID-19 pandemic will require sacrifice and teamwork, individual and collective action, and will entail big changes, some of which are as yet not fully clear.
One thing that is clear, though, is that America urgently needs new leadership.
Donald Trump has made our democracy, our social safety net, our middle class, our standing in the world, and now, this medical catastrophe, worse. He has betrayed our country and our fundamental values. He is corrupt, divisive, and negligent. He must be defeated.
I am not an expert in medicine or emergency response, or for that matter, finance or science – but having led the successful decades-long campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, I do have some experience in what it takes to achieve bold change.
We urgently need a president who understands and believes in government, who actually cares about protecting people, and who stands firm for rights and freedom here and around the world.
I have seen firsthand how, unlike Trump, Joe Biden cares about governing, knows how the government works, and will work through it, not war on it. He understands himself to be the vehicle – in his words, the “bridge to the future” – for delivering on the best of ideas from a new generation of leaders, from scientists, from middle-class Americans, and, yes, from our allies.
A Biden Administration will not be a one-man reality show of disastrous federal abdication while states and the most vulnerable are forced to compete or hung out to dry. Joe Biden will lead an all-hands-on-deck effort to restore America’s health, economy, democracy, and soul.
I say this because of my own personal experience with Joe Biden.
In 1976 – in the aftermath of Watergate and the Vietnam War, amid the reverberations of recession and energy crises – Americans celebrated our Bicentennial. A college student, I came to Washington to serve as an intern in the office of a then very young “wunderkind” Senator Joe Biden. I supported his work that summer on key foreign policy questions and watched him engage with constituents, the party, and congressional colleagues.
Through succeeding years and battles, Biden often made me proud, and sometimes disappointed me. He got things I cared about wrong – even, initially, my own work to win the freedom to marry. But, crucially, he has also always shown a willingness to listen and learn, an eagerness to explore new approaches and syntheses, a capacity to empathize and evolve.
Senator Biden voted wrong in 1996 on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, but in 2004 and 2006 he voted against proposed constitutional amendments to deny gay people the freedom to marry. In 2010 he helped steer the Obama-Biden Administration’s passage of the Matthew Shepard and James L. Byrd Hate Crimes and Prevention Act and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. By 2012 he had become one of our biggest champions. Together with President Obama, he gave millions of Americans permission to think anew and move to support equality, and helped us win the freedom to marry in 2015. But neither he nor we stopped there.
In America, Trump is deliberately and systematically chipping away at the rights and protections of same-sex couples and their families. And around the world in places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda, Trump’s counterparts are oppressing and turning a blind eye to the violence and discrimination inflicted on LGBT people.
By contrast, Joe Biden has elaborated broad and detailed stands in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our families. Equally important, he speaks authentically about our common humanity and has made the connections to our lives as he crisscrossed the country, talking with decision-makers, audiences, and voters in all settings. Joe Biden has proven himself able to change and grow, willing to lead, and ready to talk the talk and walk the walk.
In this same way, he has over many years built trust and earned the support of African-Americans, women, Rust Belt and Sun Belt voters, and working people. It’s not that Biden never gets it wrong, but, unlike Trump, Biden has the strength, compassion, and character to bring people together and improve. He can be both a fighter and a conciliator. These are the qualities America needs in the president who will lead us through the challenges we now face.
In 2015, when our Freedom to Marry campaign triumphed with a win in the Supreme Court, I got a call from my old boss. Vice President Biden congratulated me, and immediately connected the personal meaning of the victory to its deeper potential for other countries and America’s national security, as well as the next steps for our movement here at home, thinking through how our success in living up to our country’s values could inspire and strengthen the work and movement on other fronts here and abroad.
As Vice President Biden told the 1000+ activists and supporters we gathered at Freedom to Marry’s victory celebration a couple of weeks later: “It matters that we use the power of our example as a force for global human rights, to be a champion of LGBT rights around the world. This also has a significant foreign policy dimension.”
Indeed, in my work leading up to and following the marriage win, I’ve seen how when we are at our best, the American example can inspire others – from Taiwan to Costa Rica to Botswana– to make progress toward human rights ideals.
This Wednesday, May 6 is the anniversary of Vice President Biden’s historic declaration on Meet The Press in support of marriage for same-sex couples. Eight years later, the transformation in support for our love and freedom to marry has become so normalized in American life that the decades of tireless work, and setbacks, it took so for us to achieve it, and the crucial contribution Vice President Biden made to moving America forward, can be forgotten or minimized as we look to what’s next.
But while nobody—including me, who led the campaign to win marriage—ever thought that winning marriage was the only thing that mattered, it was and remains, as Joe Biden might say, a BFD. Just as the LGBT civil rights movement is harnessing the momentum of the marriage win to other important work still unfinished (including the Supreme Court ruling on employment discrimination coming any day now), so the freedom to marry victory remains proof that we can overcome immense challenges and make our country better.
Biden’s concern for people and deep knowledge and experience give him the ability to bring people together. His openness to good ideas, democratic faith, and principled willingness to change, grow, and reach, bringing people along with him, makes him the kind of leader we need to get our country back on track. With a united effort across familiar party divisions and even party lines, with a grasp of history and the weight of all that rides on this turning point for our nation and the world, I believe Joe Biden is a man who has now met his moment.
For the sake of American democracy, our country’s health, and human rights around the world, that’s the kind of leader we must elect this November — one of sound character, who is empathetic and has the courage and heart to embrace change toward a better future.
It’s Trump or Biden. Ruin or renewal. Fear or hope.
More of Trump is intolerable; it is literally killing us.
As we Americans have always done at our best, I choose renewal. I choose hope.
I choose Joe Biden for president.
Editor’s note: Evan Wolfson founded and led Freedom to Marry, the campaign that in 2015 won marriage for same-sex couples. He now advises and assists human rights causes in the US and abroad, while teaching law and social change at Georgetown Law School and Yale University.