Scope and Contents
Evan Wolfson's professional papers (Series I) document Wolfson's career prior to the foundation of Freedom to Marry and include material from Wolfson’s time at Lambda Legal, including legal briefs relating to his casework. A bulk of these briefs relate to the case Boy Scouts of American and Monmouth Council, Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale. Wolfson’s professional papers document his wide breadth of research for his cases and his leadership within the organizations Lambda Legal and Freedom to Marry. Wolfson’s professional papers date from between approximately 1990-2009.
Administrative documents (Series II) detail the organization, activities, and history of Freedom to Marry. These, along with the annual reports, job descriptions and job search documents, the papers of Samiya Bashir, the communication director, and the papers of Thalia Zepatos, director of research and messaging, contain information on the day-to-day running of Freedom to Marry from its inception in 2003 to its culmination in 2015. Additionally, the website provides a significant understanding of the history, structure, and mission of Freedom to Marry.
These records also detail the marketing and financial strategies used by Freedom to Marry and their work with partner organizations. Financial records, such as regranting files and annual reports, demonstrate the partnerships between Freedom to Marry and other civil rights and equal marriage organizations, particularly the Human Rights Campaign, GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders), GLAAD (once known as Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), Lambda Legal, and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). There is also a significant collection of press clippings, research files, and published material tracking the victories and losses of the marriage equality movement across the United States.
Audiovisual materials (Series VII) consist primarily of television publicity that advocates for marriage equality, or programming produced for or about Freedom to Marry promoting the campaign. Recordings of community events and town halls debating marriage equality are also included.
- Circa 1948-2016
- Majority of material found within 2003-2015
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Series I is closed to researchers until 2035.
Series II-VI have specific access details at the series level.
Series VII is comprised of original audiovisual material. Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy of non-commercially produced items for their personal use should consult the ordering reproductions information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.
Series VIII is comprised of computer files and has specific access details at the series level.
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
106.87 Linear Feet (535 boxes)
20 Gigabytes (1 website)
1.1 Terabytes (1 external hard drive)
The Freedom to Marry records include incorporation documents, meeting minutes, grant applications, promotional material, correspondence, office memos, legal cases, briefs, amici curiae, administrative files, research files, polling files, websites, and audiovisual materials created by, about, and for Freedom to Marry, a bipartisan campaign, to attain marriage equality for same-sex couples in the United States. The organization’s records focus almost exclusively on this goal, and the few materials that do not are related to civil rights for the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, plus) community. Materials are dated from 1948 to 2016 with the bulk falling between 2003 and 2015, the years that the campaign was active. Material dated prior to 2000 is related to the organization either as historical context or research, or pertains specifically to Evan Wolfson’s (Freedom to Marry’s founder and president) career prior to the establishment of Freedom to Marry.
Biographical / Historical
The marriage equality movement gained a victory in 1993 when Evan Wolfson and Dan Foley argued for and won marriage equality in Hawaii before the Hawaii Supreme Court in the case Baehr v. Miike. Despite this victory, anti-marriage equality groups convinced Hawaii to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage. This was the first of many DOMAs (Defense of Marriage Acts) and Super DOMAs, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of state and federal law. Recognizing that for marriage equality to become a reality an affirmative and strategic campaign would be needed, the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund approached Wolfson in 2000. Together, Wolfson and the Haas Fund created Freedom to Marry as a sustained affirmative campaign designed to work towards the goal of marriage equality in the United States. The campaign designed a strategy to advocate for marriage equality at the state and federal level. The Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund seeded Freedom to Marry with a $2.5 million grant.
Freedom to Marry incorporated as a nonprofit in 2003, and was overseen by a board and steering committee with Wolfson acting as president. The structure of Freedom to Marry included departments focused on communications, development, research, political operations, and campaign programs. Freedom to Marry used a three-part strategy which included winning marriage equality in more states, building and growing majority support for marriage, and ending federal discrimination. This strategy, known as the Roadmap to Victory, argued that marriage equality did not need to win every state, but simply enough states to encourage the higher branches of the United States government to act. This strategy formed the foundation for their campaign, which included funding partner organizations through regranting programs, mounting legal challenges in the court, lobbying and political fundraising, and community organization. Freedom to Marry also had a targeted marketing strategy to extend their message to the general public and specific groups, including Spanish speakers, Republicans, veterans,and religous communities.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage on a federal level by releasing its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. On July 9, 2015, Freedom to Marry declared that the campaign was over and the organization was dissolved, as they’d achieved their goal of establishing marriage equality in the United States.
Information in this historical note was primarily drawn from the Freedom to Marry website, as well as from the annual reports found in the Program Files series.
Biographical / Historical
While at Harvard, Wolfson wrote his thesis, Same-sex Marriage and Morality: The Human Rights Vision of the Constitution, on marriage equality for same-sex couples. This work became the foundation for his career. After his graduation from Harvard Law School he briefly taught political philosophy at Harvard College before serving as assistant district attorney for Kings County, New York. He also worked as a pro bono cooperating attorney for Lambda Legal between 1984 to 1989.
Wolfson worked at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and was the director of the Fund's Legal Marriage Project throughout the 1990s. During this time he served as co-counsel along with Dan Foley on Hawaii's landmark case for marriage equality, Baehr v. Miike. He became the first Lambda attorney to argue before the United States Supreme Court when he represented James Dale in Boy Scouts of America et. al. v. James Dale, a case which challenged the Boy Scouts for firing Scoutmaster James Dale due to his sexual orientation. In 2000, Wolfson left Lambda Legal to establish Freedom to Marry, where he focused on marriage equality. He served as president of Freedom to Marry from its inception in 2000 until its dissolution in 2015.
Wolfson wrote the book Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry, published in 2004. He has also written many articles on marriage equality and gay rights. He won numerous awards in honor of his work to ensure marriage equality, including the MassMutual Vow to Protect award and the Barnard Medal of Distinction. He has been named Distinguished Visitor from Practice at Georgetown Law Center, Distinguished Practitioner in Grand Strategy at Yale University, and Senior Counsel at Dentons.
Information found in this biographical note has been drawn from the Freedom to Marry website.
- Astraea Foundation
- Bashir, Samiya A.
- Civil rights -- United States -- 21st century
- Freedom to Marry
- GLAAD (Organization : 2013- )
- Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
- Gay activists -- United States
- Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
- Gay rights -- United States
- Homosexuality -- Law and legislation -- United States
- LGBTQ resource
- Lambda Legal
- Law and politics
- Lawyers -- United States -- 21st century
- Same-sex marriage
- Wolfson, Evan, 1957-
- Zepatos, Thalia, 1955-
- Guide to the Freedom to Marry Records
- Compiled by Camila Zorrilla Tessler and Emily Komornik
- April 2018
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository
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