Chelsea Same-Sex Marriage Advocate to Testify at U.S. Senate Hearing

By Meredith Hoffman on July 20, 2011 6:54am 

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Chelsea-based Freedom to Marry, will testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Chelsea-based Freedom to Marry, will testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
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Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone

CHELSEA — Evan Wolfson says another milestone for gay marriage is about to be reached.

Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry which has its headquarters on West 23rd Street, will testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday during debate on the Respect of Marriage Act, a measure which would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA, which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving such things as tax and immigration benefits, is an "anti-gay" measure that "harms people every day," Wolfson said he will argue at the hearing. 

Wolfson, whose organization campaigned for New York's Marriage Equality Act which becomes law Sunday, said this summer is both a time of celebration and a "reminder of how much we have left to do" in the fight for gay rights.

He is one of two expert witnesses expected to testify at Wednesday's hearing, along several with personal testimonies, including Ron Wallen of California.

"Ron was with his partner for many years," said Wolfson, adding that when Wallen's partner died, the grieving man also stood to lose his home, thanks to DOMA. "He was treated as if he were nothing more than a roommate to the man he loved and lived with for years."

Wolfson also has personal memories associated with the gay marriage fight.

Heading on the train to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to prepare for the hearing, he remembered 15 years ago, when he served as a lawyer for a landmark court battle over gay marriage in Hawaii.

"The Hawaii case was the first one in which the government had to present evidence against gay marriage," said Wolfson, who has fought for same-sex marriage for 28 years.

"At the same time, on the other side of the country, Congress was rushing through the anti-gay, so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' aimed at blocking the very trial I was doing."

But now he sees things at turning point.

"With New York [passing same-sex marriage], we will more than double the population of Americans living in a state where same-sex marriage is legal," Wolfson said.

"The first step to undoing marriage discrimination is allowing people to see with their own eyes that no one is hurt when gay people are married."

While he plans to celebrate New York's new bill this weekend — starting Thursday with a party at the governor's mansion in Albany — he insisted that his fight is far from over.

"We're building on the momentum of New York," Wolfson said. "I feel a real sense of obligation to make a strong case to members of Congress that they need to undo DOMA's damage."

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