Today, Evan Wolfson received the Barnard Medal of Distinction at Barnard College’s commencement ceremony. The founder and president of Freedom to Marry, who began his work toward marriage equality while still a student at Harvard Law School, was honored alongside another Harvard Law School graduate, President Obama — who just this past week said that he believes same-sex couples should be able to marry.
What did Wolfson think of Obama’s comments last week to ABC’s Robin Roberts?
“It was just such a pitch-perfect way to bring the nation along — and to celebrate our contribution to making a better America,” he tells Metro Weekly this evening.
Wolfson would know, having spent much of his career since his law school days working to advance marriage equality — first at Lambda Legal, where he served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs challenging Hawaii’s marriage laws, and then by founding Freedom to Marry.
Of the day, Wolfson tells Metro Weekly this evening, “It just really felt like we were seeing our cause embraced in the heart of the country, as well as in the wave of the next generation.”
Receiving his medal from former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye, Wolfson was praised for that work and more, including having argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of James Dale’s effort to be an out gay assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scouts of America.
Obama was introduced by Barnard College President Debora Spar, who noted Obama’s recent support for same-sex couples’ marriages, as Wolfson stood feet away, smiling broadly.
Wolfson says of the president’s comments at the Barnard commencement and later at a fundraiser also held in New York City: “It’s obviously really gratifying to see how far we’ve come and to have the president’s weight pushing against the barriers we still have to overcome.”
Of the commencement itself, Wolfson says, “It was just incredibly moving, to stand on the stage in front of these amazing young women graduates, with President Obama, receiving an award from Judge Kaye, in the week that the president embraced the freedom to marry. Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“And it was especially moving for me because I had my family there — [including] my husband.”
READ the full exchange below the jump.
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Metro Weekly spoke with Wolfson about the day and President Obama’s recent moves on marriage.
METRO WEEKLY: What was today like?
EVAN WOLFSON: It was just incredibly moving, to stand on the stage in front of these amazing young women graduates, with President Obama, receiving an award from Judge Kaye, in the week that the president embraced the freedom to marry. Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.
And it was especially moving for me because I had my family there — [including] my husband.
It just really felt like we were seeing our cause embraced in the heart of the country, as well as in the wave of the next generation.
Lots more to do, lots more to do. But, truly, a wonderful milestone moment.
MW: The president referred in his speech to the efforts of young people from “Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.”
WOLFSON: The was absolutely my favorite line in the speech. That arc in which we are so woven in, and also as a call to action. I think the president hit it perfectly, much as he did the other day in describing how he had embraced the freedom to marry in talking about his family. It was just such a pitch-perfect way to bring the nation along — and to celebrate our contribution to making a better America.
MW: Did you get any chance to say anything to him?
WOLFSON: I had no private time. It was really a few handshakes throughout the day. It felt like a very meaningful two-way “thank you” and two-way handshake. That was what we had.
MW: A few hour later, at the fundraiser hosted by Ricky Martin, he referenced the comments of last week by using the words “marriage equality.”
WOLFSON: I heard that news.
MW: He said of “the announcement I made last week about my views on marriage equality,” “I want everybody treated fairly in this country. We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody.”
Very powerful words. Very powerful coming from the president. And, a real call to action to all of us to get in there and seize the momentum and finish the job.
MW: What do you think — as one of the key people who has urged people to talk not about “gay marriage” or even “same-sex marriage” but “marriage equality” and the “freedom to marry” — to hear the president of the United States using that language?
WOLFSON: It’s obviously really gratifying to see how far we’ve come and to have the president’s weight pushing against the barriers we still have to overcome.
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