One morning, late last June, Cameron Tolle and 25 of his colleagues at Freedom to Marry, an organization founded in 2003 with the goal of securing marriage equality nationwide, sat anxiously waiting for news of a decision that would validate five years of work for Tolle and his team—most of whom are under 30, many of whom live in Brooklyn. Surrounding them were framed newspaper front-pages chronologizing court and legislative triumphs, each one immortalizing the group’s digital campaign to help make marriage equality a standard in all 50 states.
Since 2010, Freedom to Marry’s digital team has been responsible for galvanizing the marriage equality message nationwide—that the story of marriage equality centers on love and family, not politics—through social media and other digital storytelling. Backed with a six-person staff and the help of their partners, the subset set-up roots across the country as a full-service digital shop that worked to get marriage on the ballot, at the state legislature and eventually achieving their main goal by winning marriage equality at the Supreme Court.
“If you were to go back five, maybe seven years, the issue of marriage for same-sex couples wasn’t necessarily something people from across the country thought about. A lot of people didn’t think they knew gay people, a lot of people felt it was more of a political issue and not something that was affecting real families across the country,” said Tolle, Director of Digital Action. “So we [entered] 2010 knowing that we needed to be the national campaign to end marriage discrimination, and Freedom to Marry was actively looking for an intelligent group of people to run it.”
When Deputy Digital Director Adam Polaski joined Freedom to Marry’s digital team in the summer of 2012 his brother was getting married. And though his brother was not gay, Polaski, who graduated summa cum laude at Ithaca College in May 2012, realized the impact marriage had on those involved.
“The entire process of doing the bachelor party, doing the engagement party, and all that stuff with my family, I just realized how deeply personal a wedding is and [the] benefit for a family to bring people from both families to really start a new life together,” Polaski said. “It’s so significant to so many people, and really has such a power in our society.”
The organization worked online and offline to redefine the misconceived partisan issue by placing an emphasis on family and showcasing the love and commitment of real couples, in a way that humanized the issue but also made it inclusive.
Unlike other organizations, the team showed the “unexpected couple” that wasn’t originally being supported in these conversations, like Jessica and Chi, an African American couple from the south or Master Sergeant T. Ashley Metcalf, who served in the U.S Air Force. In doing so, Freedom Marry hoisted themselves up to become the central campaign that wasn’t only devoted to win but was truly an authentic national campaign.
“When Evan Wolfson set up this campaign, there was no other real strategy behind this idea of having a central hub and being able to be this connective tissue that works every single day only on marriage just to fight, fight, fight until we get it done,” said Polaski. “And at the end of the day, what we’re trying to get out is a love story and everyone getting married has a love story.”
And that’s what happened. All of which is why on June 26 at 10:01am, when the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same sex marriage across the country was announced, one message—courtesy of President Obama—dominated Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: #LoveWins.
“A year ago I didn’t know we would win this year. I knew we would, but I wasn’t expecting to win this year,” said Michael Crawford, Director of Digital and Creative. “We showed the Supreme Court that America was ready to accept marriage. Whenever you are fighting for something that is trying to make people happy, then you’re going to win. Love wins always, it might take sometime but it wins and we had love on our side.”