Human Rights Campaign director Chad Griffin followed up a press conference at the Capitol this morning with a noon Q and A session with former state Rep. Kathy Webb at the Clinton School of Public Service on the importance of passing marriage equality laws in every state. "Organize, organize, organize," he advised; "we need both Republicans and Democrats or we won't win."
Both Griffin and Webb noted that they've had conversations with lawmakers in which they were told that there just weren't many gays among their constituencies. "You laugh," he said; his first reaction, too. But his second was that if they didn't know there were gays and lesbians and transgender and bi-sexual people in the areas they represented, "the responsibility is on us — they had not heard enough of us."
In response to a question from Webb, Griffin — the youngest West Wing staffer ever during the Clinton administration — said it was "incredibly gratifying" to see his mentors the Clintons (and Obamas) evolve toward supporting same-sex marriage. The DOMA law — overturned a couple of weeks ago by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional — was signed by President Clinton; he recently repudiated it. Griffin related a story about catching an Amtrak train in New York last spring and finding Hillary Clinton on board (not being secretary of state means your travel style is "downgraded," he joked) and having a "great conversation" with her. It was just a few days later that Clinton made the video in which she declared that "gay rights are human rights," and expressed her support for same-sex marriage.
In answer to a question from state Sen. Joyce Elliott about the divide among blacks and whites on the marriage equality issue, Griffin talked about HRC's successful campaign in Maryland — which is 40 percent black — to pass a marriage equality law there, a campaign that took the support of black pastors and which he said "moved the needle" in creating partnerships that crossed color lines.
Griffin talked about the impact on gay youth of the passage of Proposition 8 — California's law prohibiting same sex marriage that the Supreme Court, by declining to hear an appeal, has been overturned — and other DOMA-like laws. Prop 8 and other laws passed with huge percentages of the popular vote, sending a "tragic" message to young gay people that they are second class, Griffin said. The reversal of the federal DOMA law by the U.S. Supreme Court has helped ameliorate that, but Griffin said it was important to fight on, for both youth and for older gay couples who, though they are legally married, are facing questions of access to benefits and hospital access.
So what should happen in Arkansas? Griffin said he wasn't ready to announce anything yet about an Arkansas HRC chapter, but said he was going to "keep coming back" until there is equality for the GLBT community. "We have to be smart and we have to be strategic" with the kinds of lawsuits brought and jurisdictions they're filed in, Griffin said, saying he deferred to "legal minds" and the "folks at ACLU" on how to proceed; "it's really important that we listen to those who lead the way" in civil rights battles.