HRC president: ‘We have to be smart and strategic moving forward’
Head of nation’s largest LGBT group reflects on election, Supreme Court cases
As euphoria from the Nov. 6 general election fades, LGBT advocates look forward to continued progress in Congress and an upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether to hear several gay marriage cases.
The Nov. 6 vote was, without a doubt, the “gayest” election in the history of American politics. From four state-level gay marriage victories in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and Washington to the election of Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) as the country’s first-ever openly gay U.S. senator, equality advocates had much to celebrate.
But there’s plenty of work that remains unfinished. An all-inclusive Employment NonDiscrimination Act, universal marriage rights for all of the country’s gay and lesbian couples and working to eradicate bullying of LGBT youth are some of the items that remain on the agenda of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group.
HRC President Chad Griffin knows full well the impact of the recent election victories.
“It was an incredible sweep across the country,” Griffin told GA Voice in a telephone interview this week. “I’m so proud of all of the work the team did. It was the biggest mobilization that HRC has ever engaged in. In those four marriage states we invested $5.5 million.”
He’s also mindful of the work that must be done.
“To have such victories only increases the pressure,” Griffin said. “We have to be smart and strategic moving forward.”
Next stop: Supreme Court?
Perhaps the next batch of equality victories will come courtesy the U.S. Supreme Court. On Nov. 30, the court will consider whether to hear arguments on several legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions, as well as California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage.
Griffin played a key role in the Prop 8 battle. As the co-founder of American Federation for Equal Rights, he was instrumental in the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the anti-marriage law.
“I won’t pretend to be able to predict what these justices will do or what cases they take,” Griffin said. “I think it’s likely that they take one or more cases before them. If they don’t take Prop 8 then marriage could begin [in California] within hours or days. Either way, we are within the window of Prop 8 being erased from the books and that will be a victory.”
HRC does not usually participate in legal cases, like the DOMA lawsuits or Prop 8’s challenge. Despite his history with AFER, Griffin said HRC will continue leaving that kind of legal advocacy to other gay rights groups.
“We have incredible partner organizations,” Griffin said. “We have Lambda Legal, GLAD [Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders], AFER and the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union]. I think the partnerships there are tremendous. If you look at these cases, they are well litigated across the board.”
What about Georgia?
Georgia is still a decidedly red state and has a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. A poll conducted over the summer by CNN and ORC International found that while attitudes on marriage equality are shifting in favor of gay couples, Southerners continue to lag well behind the rest of the country.
With a state legislature and governor decidedly Republican, any movement toward marriage equality is highly unlikely to originate under the Gold Dome.
“I believe that ultimately this issue will be decided before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Griffin said. “These important civil rights issues have always come about before the court. The momentum is important. It’s quite clear where the country is headed on these issues.”
But Griffin and HRC remain confident that progress can be made in places like Georgia.
“In states where we won’t see marriage on the ballot, we have to make advancements there, too,” Griffin said. “In places where we’re unlikely to see ballot measures, that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to advance.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to ultimately decide the issue of same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy HRC)