HRC pres­i­dent: ‘We have to be smart and strate­gic mov­ing for­ward’

Head of na­tion’s largest LGBT group re­flects on elec­tion, Supreme Court cases

GA Voice - - NEWS - By Ryan Watkins rwatkins@the­gavoice.com

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)

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