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After Marriage Equality, Here's What's Next for the LGBT Rights Movement

The strategy that helped win support for same-sex marriage is being redirected to enact anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people state by state across the country.
Photo by John Taggart/EPA

In the weeks since a US Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, many gay rights advocates have been wondering what will become of the movement for marriage equality and the leaders who have devoted decades to the fight.

The answer, it seems, is that the effort will redirect itself.

The Freedom for All Americans campaign, launched earlier this year, is taking the playbook and many of the key players from the Freedom to Marry campaign and applying them toward a broader civil rights goal: anti-discrimination protections for all sexual orientations and gender identities.


Having achieved its goal, Freedom to Marry — which methodically plotted out a strategy to gain the wider social acceptance of gays by advocating the right to marry through legal cases in states across the country — is now in the process of shutting down. Evan Wolfson, the campaign's founder and architect, has said that he doesn't know what he will do next.

Related: 'America Is Ready': Freedom to Marry Founder Evan Wolfson on Gay Marriage and the Supreme Court

But several of his former staffers are going to work with Freedom for All Americans, which will push for anti-discrimination laws at the state level while telling compelling stories of gay and transgender Americans who are affected by a lack of civil protections, with the ultimate goal of winning passage of a federal anti-discrimination bill.

"We're a new campaign that's focused on advancing non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in states where it's lacking or there aren't complete protections, and the end goal is comprehensive federal legislation protecting all LGBT people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, and the public domain," Dan Rafter, spokesman for the group, told VICE News.

People participating in the annual Chicago Pride Parade in Chicago on June 28, 2015. (Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA)

The group is already stocking its website with accounts from people around the nation who have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality or for being transgender, as well as working on the ground in states like Texas and Massachusetts to begin rallying support.


"There's a pretty high number of Americans who don't realize there isn't a federal anti-discrimination law, and that number is also high for people who don't realize states don't have protections," Rafter said. "So we'll be doing a lot of work to elevate those stories —whether it's losing your job, being evicted from your home — and how that impacts people."

Freedom for All Americans will be funded by established backers of the gay rights movement, including the Gill Foundation, the American Unity Fund, and businessmen such as Paul Singer and Daniel Loeb, but it will also work to expand its donor base and involve new supporters. Rafter said that a variety of backers, including major Republican and Democratic donors, will allow the campaign to move forward in a bi-partisan spirit.

The campaign said in a statement that its present funding stands at about $25 million, though Tim Gill told Bloomberg that the group is prepared to spend $100 million over the coming decade.

Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Freedom for All Americans, emphasized the focus on building momentum state-by-state in order to demonstrate support for a federal law.

"By sharing our stories and advancing these protections at the state level, we'll make clear the need for — and broad support for — comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections," McTighe said in a statement to VICE News. "Despite the broad support for nondiscrimination protections, some lawmakers are still choosing to advance measures that explicitly harm LGBT people and our families…. We're working to show policymakers that these types of bills harm our economy and simply do not garner support from most Americans."


Related: How Hobby Lobby Paved the Way for the Current Rush of Religious Freedom Laws

One of the main challenges the new effort will face is the sudden impulse among conservative legislators to pass religious freedom bills, which offer exemptions for businesses and individuals who want to use their religious beliefs to justify their refusal to serve LGBT individuals.

Rafter said that he hopes those battles will play out much like the ones in Indiana and Arkansas from earlier this year, in which outcry from influential businesses such as Walmart helped compel conservative lawmakers to amend their religious freedom bills to protect LGBT individuals.

"I think we've seen this before in fights like Indiana in April, where businesses are the strongest advocates for equality because they understand all too well the need to be in communities with welcoming policies and laws," Rafter said. "Supporting equality isn't just right thing to do but makes strong economic sense."

"We know religious freedoms are protected in the Constitution and in state constitutions," he added. "No one is ever going to try and change any of that."

Rafter declined to speculate about the length of time that will be necessary to win the anti-discrimination battle. Once the marriage equality campaign picked up steam, he noted, progress happened faster than anyone ever expected.

"I think the most important thing we want to convey is that the fight is not over," Rafter said. "There is still the next phase in the fight for full equality. We have to ensure that people can live openly and safely in their communities by fighting to get these nondiscrimination measures passed."

Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen